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Ex-Hibs stalwart Buckle leads youth drive

Norman Buckle in his playing days with Hibs.

Norman Buckle in his playing days with Hibs.

In the sixties, there were two youth centres in the Paola/Tarxien area. The Paola Youth Centre was founded and run by the late Fr Joseph Caruana and the St Augustine Oratory was headed by Fr Hilary Tagliaferro. Both clubs had a very good football team.

'Il-Father', as he was affectionately known, needs no introduction. He is a legend in his own lifetime. Fr Hilary was not only responsible for running the Oratory, he also had a big say in the organisation of youth football on the Maltese islands.

Later on, he set up the Marsa Sports Centre and the Youth FA and also served for many years in the MFA administration.

Fr Hilary also had a very successful spell as coach of Hibernians FC in the late sixties.

The Augustine Oratory team served Maltese football well as a breeding ground for many would-be footballers.

A few that readily spring to mind are Frans Mifsud, Joe Serge, Victor Grima, Salvu Gatt, Joe Pace and Norman Buckle in the sixties, and Ġużi Xuereb, Pawlu Xuereb and Joe Curmi in the seventies. Ġużi Xuereb was undoubtedly the most talented player to come out of the Oratory.

The Oratory, like many others scattered around Malta and Gozo, was the precursor of today's football nursery. Boys did not have expensive football kits in those days but they made up for it with skill and enthusiasm.

Our families could not afford to buy many things for us but at least we had a place where we could enjoy ourselves without the fear of drugs, alcohol, and other maladies which plague modern society.

The subject of today's story is Norman Buckle, a product of the Augustine Oratory. Buckle was born and bred in Paola but like many of his peers, he frequented the Oratory. Therefore, from a very young age, he was mentored by Fr Hilary.

Buckle was regarded as one of the most promising players at the Oratory in the sixties.

In those days, Fr Hilary, apart from coaching Hibernians, was also responsible for the minor teams of the Paola club and that of Little Rainbows. It was therefore a natural step for a talented player like Buckle to join the junior ranks of Hibernians.

After making the grade with the youths and under-21 teams, Buckle was ready to take his bow on the big stage. He played his first match for Hibs in the first division in 1963, scoring a vital goal on his debut.

Buckle was rather small and frail for the hustle and bustle of league football and with his fair hair and boyish looks, he seemed a bit out of place among the burly defenders of his era. But, he more than made up for his lack of brawn with his skills and vision. Those attributes made him one of the most exciting young players of his era.

A clever inside-forward, he could create as well as score goals and in the eight seasons he spent with Hibs, he won seven major honours, including two league championships and one FA Trophy medal.

Buckle was also picked by Salvu Cuschieri for the Malta Amateur squad which played against the Italy and Greece teams in the 1969-70 UEFA Amateur Tournament. Buckle played in all four matches.

In 1971, Buckle, rather prematurely, retired from football but his most significant contribution to the game was still to come. In 2002, he took over the running of the Paola Youth Nursery from George Demajo.

Under Demajo, the nursery improved by leaps and bounds but after many years as president, he made way for a younger person to continue his good work.

Buckle rose to the occasion, giving the nursery the boost it needed to go one step further as the Hibs nursery became one of the best in Malta.

Under his presidency, a new and modern clubhouse was built and an artificial pitch was installed at the nursery's ground.

Drawing largely from the experience he acquired from Fr Hilary, Buckle has become synonymous with youth football. A quiet and kind man, he attracts children to the Hibs nursery like bees to honey. It is no coincidence that Hibs have arguably the best crop of youngsters on the island.

Hibs' success last season in winning the Premier League and the U-15 and U-17 youth leagues was testimony to the excellent leadership of club president Tony Bezzina and the shrewdness and talent-spotting ability of Buckle.

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