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The emergence of Zebbug

Up to the late 1960s, Zebbug Rangers were an average team in the Third Division. Football feats had been few and far in between but 1967 marked the start of a new era for the Rangers, the best in the club's history.

In 1967-68, Rangers won Section B of the Third Division League after a tough battle with Vittoriosa Stars. The two clubs raced neck-and-neck for the tape and everything pointed to an exciting decider in the last match of the competition which, as fate would have it, was between the two contenders.

In football, however, things do not always work out as planned. In their penultimate match, the Stars lost 0-1 to bottom team Gudja United to leave Rangers with a precious advantage.

Led by ex-Sliema and Malta full-back Joe Bonnici, Zebbug needed only a draw from their game against the Stars to secure section honours. They made no mistake, winning an exciting game 2-0 to enter the championship deciders as hot favourites to clinch promotion to the Second Division.

In the deciders, Zebbug started with a 1-1 draw against Zurrieq.

This result was seen as a setback for the Rangers because in their next match, they had to face the best team in the division, Zejtun Corinthians.

Zejtun had a formidable team that year and against Zebbug they did not disappoint their vociferous supporters, winning a keen encounter 1-0. They went on to beat Zurrieq 2-0 in the last match of the first round.

With only one point from their first two matches, Zebbug needed two victories in the second round to keep their hopes alive.

They rolled up their sleeves and although Zurrieq fought for every inch of ground, Rangers emerged victorious 1-0.

Everything depended on the game against the Corinthians. A victory for Zebbug would not only ensure promotion but also keep the championship issue wide open.

The old Schreiber Sports Ground that Sunday morning was filled to capacity with supporters all decked out for the occasion with horns, flags and rattles. The noise could be heard all around Paola as Zebbug rose to the occasion to beat their more quoted-opponents 2-1.

Zejtun now needed to beat Zurrieq to make sure of the championship. A draw would have set up a decider with the Rangers.

Zejtun were, however, in no mood to dish out favours. They came out fighting against an indifferent Zurrieq side and emerged 3-0 winners to lift the trophy.

It was a great disappointment for Zebbug but they made up for it with a much welcome victory in the Division Three Cup. To make this success sweeter, Zebbug ousted Zejtun in the semi-finals in one of the most exciting matches that season.

The final against Marsaxlokk drew a huge crowd to the Schreiber. The game, however, was something of an anti-climax. The two teams were too scared of each other to produce any creative football.

In the end, Zebbug deserved their 2-1 victory if only because they were slightly more adventurous than their opponents.

Season 1967-68 opened the way for the best period in the history of the club from Zebbug.

The next year they won promotion to the First Division for the first time and although their maiden stay in the top division was cut short in 1971-72, the next season they returned to the top flight where they remained up to 1977.

During that period, Zebbug Rangers earned the respect of the so-called giants of Maltese football with their honest down-to-earth endeavour.

I remember that fine team very well. Robert Gatt, Charles Scerri and Roy Callus were probably the best three players to wear the Rangers' colours. Gatt and Scerri were capped at full international level while Callus played for Malta Amateurs XI.

Gatt also made a name for himself as one of the top coaches in Maltese football.

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