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Family ties... the Nicholl bond

Sammy Nicholl (right) and his uncle Tony Nicholl (no.9 shirt) in a raid inside the Ħamrun Spartans box during a league match way back in the 1950s.

Sammy Nicholl (right) and his uncle Tony Nicholl (no.9 shirt) in a raid inside the Ħamrun Spartans box during a league match way back in the 1950s.

In the history of Maltese football there were many cases of brothers playing together in the same team.

One need only mention the brothers Friggieri, Samuel and Troisi and, more recently, the Bennettis, the Sultanas and the five Attard brothers. However, as far as I can ascertain there was never a case of father and son playing professional football for the same team.

The closest we get to this unique feat is the case of uncle and nephew which happened in the 1950s when Sammy Nicholl played alongside his uncle Tony for Sliema Wanderers.

Tony Nicholl had quite a headstart over his nephew Sammy.

Making his debut in 1932, Tony became by far the most famous player in Maltese football. He also had a long and glorious career which stretched up to 1956, giving the Wanderers a quarter of a century of sterling service.

During his career, Tony established new scoring records.

He was league top scorer eight times, his best season being 1945-46 when he hit 22 goals. His career haul of 172 goals from 200 league matches would have probably given him a place among the world's best in those days had such list been compiled. His fantastic record of 57 cup goals from 54 matches would surely give him a place in the world's top-10 list.

For several years, Tony was an automatic choice for the national team. Between 1933 and 1956 he played 48 times for the MFA XI, scoring 34 goals in the process. His only disappointment was that he never played in a full international match for Malta.

By the time that Sammy entered the scene, the best years of Tony had passed. Sammy played a few games with his uncle in the Sliema forward line but Tony soon dropped back to the centre-half position. However, keeping things in the family, he passed his scoring instincts to his nephew.

Sammy started his career with Żebbuġ Rangers but in 1952 he joined the Wanderers and made his debut for the Blues on December 12 of that year in a 0-0 draw with Birkirkara.

Sammy was an instant success. It was really a case of a chip of an old block because before long he showed that his scoring prowess was as sharp as that of his famous uncle.

In the three seasons between 1955 and 1958, he finished as the league's top-scorer. During this great period in Sliema's history, the Blues won three successive championships and the quadruple crown in 1955-56.

Sammy was present in every match during that particular period.

Perfect deliveries

A clever inside-forward, he could make goals as well as score them.

He could also play on the wing, delivering perfect crosses for his centre-forward with uncanny precision. However, he was most effective in the thick of the battle where a well-placed shot or a timely sprint nearly always ended in disaster for the opposition.

I cannot say that I remember Tony Nicholl very well. He was well before my time but since I lived near the Schreiber Sports Ground there were occasions, which I now cherish, when I saw him playing at centre-half in non-league football.

I remember Sammy very well though. He continued playing for Sliema at least up to 1963 when the Blues beat Hibernians 2-0 to win the FA Trophy.

Sammy had a knack of scoring crucial goals against my home-town club Hibs. At the stadium, we would let go a sigh of relief when he was not included in Sliema's starting line-up. However, many times he came on as substitute to drive a nail in Hibs' coffin.

In season 1956-57, he was picked to play for Malta in the first-ever international match against Austria. The goal he scored late in that match has since gone down with letters of gold in the annals of Maltese football history.

Apart from being a prolific scorer and a great amateur player, Sammy Nicholl will also be remembered as a highly knowledgeable journalist and a TV pundit.

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