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City storm to FA Trophy win

Kris Laferla with the Rothmans FA Trophy won by Valletta FC in 1995.

Kris Laferla with the Rothmans FA Trophy won by Valletta FC in 1995.

In 1994-95, the MFA signed a new contract with Central Cigarette for the sponsorship of the FA Trophy. It was a lucrative deal, financially, but as part of the agreement, the MFA had to etch the Rothmans emblem on the base of the trophy.

Some reckoned that this was an insensitive decision which put those responsible in a bad light. In the circumstances, others argued, it would have been better to retire the FA Trophy and introduce a new cup. After all, this was not the first time since 1911 that the competition had changed sponsors.

Fortunately, the pieces that were removed from the trophy were kept and when the Rothmans sponsorship ended, the trophy was restored to its original state.

The first Rothmans Trophy will always be remembered for the way Valletta FC stormed to victory.

The early honours of the competition fell to Mosta Athletic. They ousted two Premier League sides on their way to the quarter-finals. In the first two rounds, they beat neighbours Naxxar Lions 3-0 and Pietà Hotspurs 3-1. Their dream run came to an end in the quarter-finals when they were soundly beaten 3-0 by Żurrieq.

In the quarter-finals Valletta beat rivals Floriana 3-2 and in the semis, they chalked up a 2-0 victory over Sliema Wanderers.

In the final, Valletta met great antagonists Ħamrun Spartans who were on a high after victories over league champions Hibernians and Żurrieq.

The stage was therefore set for a pulsating final. The game, played in May 1995, attracted a bumper crowd. Both sets of supporters enhanced the occasion with banners and streamers and two brass bands which kept the atmosphere electric up to the final whistle.

Valletta immediately made their presence felt with a series of raids into the Spartans' half. The Citizens kept up the pressure and it seemed a matter of when not if they would score but Ħamrun defended valiantly.

The Spartans' disciplined defence, ably marshalled by goalkeeper Sean Sullivan, repelled Valletta's efforts. Then, with the end of normal time looming, Ħamrun came out of their defensive shell and mounted a series of fast breaks. For a short while, Valletta were ruffled and with a bit of luck Ħamrun could even have snatched victory.

At the final whistle, the score sheet was still blank and the game had to go to extra time.

The extra half-hour offered no change in the pattern of the game. This time, however, Valletta managed to break the deadlock. An accurate pass from Joe Zarb found Danilo Doncic in a perfect position to fire past Sullivan.

Valletta thus clinched the Rothmans Trophy and went on to celebrate in their customary boisterous style.

Ħamrun, on the other hand, left the stadium with their heads held high. Their lion-hearted effort was appreciated by their loyal supporters who gave them a standing ovation as they left the field.

Valletta rounded off the campaign by beating Hibernians in the Super Cup four days later. This game proved to be a fitting end to a memorable season.

Valletta were bursting with confidence after their fine performance in the final of the FA Trophy. Hibs were just as confident and, after just two minutes, their towering defender Lawrence Attard (who seemed to have made it a habit of scoring against Valletta) headed past Reggie Cini.

Valletta were not demoralised and showing no signs of exhaustion after their 120-minute football marathon just a few days earlier, they surged forward in search of an equaliser.

In a scrimmage, Kris Laferla was floored in Hibs' penalty area. Zarb kept his cool to make it 1-1 from the spot.

Valletta maintained their momentum and a few minutes from half-time, Zarb netted again to put them in front. The Citizens now enjoyed most of the exchanges. They mounted one attack after the other but Hibs held tight.

Valletta were made to pay for their missed chances when Silvio Vella, much against the run of play, levelled for Hibs. During extra-time, both sides seemed too tired to go all out for the winner.

The drama reached a peak during the penalty shoot-out in which Valletta scored six penalties to Hibs' five. Thus Valletta ended their season on a high note, claiming their second honour in the space of five days.

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