Floriana’s centre-forward problem
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Floriana’s centre-forward problem

Tony Cauchi

Tony Cauchi

It is odd how a club with the traditions of Floriana rarely possessed a centre-forward of class in the early days of Maltese football.

In the 1910s, they relied mostly on Jack Holland for goals but the untimely death of Joe Tabona in the early 1920s deprived the club of one of the best candidates for the forward-line position.

Many players were tried out but, season after season, the club’s principal top scorer remained inside-left ‘Kaneni’ Cauchi. Yet, when Cauchi was moved to centre-forward, his knack of scoring goals seemed to desert him.

Ironically, Floriana were always strong on the wings. One need only mention Ġużi Samuel, Ġużi Agius, Salvu Grima and Pullu Demanuele as the best among many.

Sliema, on the other hand, never had this problem. The Wanderers were always favoured with successful pivots but could never point to the same standard on the wings. The football generations of the 1920s and 1930s boasted Frankie Busuttil’s great displays at centre-forward.

When Busuttil retired from the game, the Wanderers were well served for a time by Mallia, a player who made his mark in football with Sliema Blue Stars in the Amateur League. Mallia’s career with the Blues was terminated suddenly when he joined the Malta Police Force.

The Wanderers then introduced Teddy Holland, a player whose deadly shooting got them many a goal. With Holland dropping back in defence towards the end of his career, Salvu Sammut kept up the tradition with his accurate shooting and opportunism.

And then came Tony Nicholl, whose brilliant all-round skills made him the greatest centre-forward ever produced by the Maltese game.

To try and solve Floriana’s problem, when Leo Drucker took over the reins of the team in 1935, he invited over to Malta a striker of international class from SK Austria, a certain Gruber.

Unfortunately, he found our grounds too hard for his liking and in his first trial match against the Tigers he had to retire, complaining of stiffness.

Gruber was given another chance against the Royal Engineers at the Mile End on November 7, 1935.

The Austrian showed some neat touches, especially in the way he placed the ball to the wings, but was reluctant to come to grips with the opposition. Although scoring an excellent goal, it was obvious that he was not fit enough for competitive football. Floriana reluctantly let him go.

The Greens hunted around for a replacement and found Mayerhofer, a typical continental centre-forward quick on the ball and an expert in the short passing game.

He made his debut for Floriana on November 17, in a friendly match against 2nd Rifle Brigade, a match which Floriana won 3-1.

Mayerhofer soon settled down at Floriana and in his next two outings he scored a hat-trick in a 6-0 victory over the King’s Own Scottish Boarderers and five goals against HMS Glorious.

In the last few seasons before the war, Floriana signed an English centre-forward who spent most of his career at Millwall. Bond was an excellent player and for a while he solved Floriana’s problems. But then came the war and football was stopped for the duration.

In the 1940s Floriana introduced the young Ajax players en bloc in the First Division.

The Ajax were a tremendous success. Their attack, led by Charlie Azzopardi (Il-Gross), was the terror of the land. Azzopardi was a fine goal-scorer but at the height of his career he was transfered to Rabat FC thus making way for another great centre-forward.

Tony Cauchi served his apprenticeship in the Little Ajax FT. However, he soon made Floriana’s no.9 jersey his own and the club never regretted it.

Cauchi ranked among the best attackers of the 1950s and 1960s and when he finally retired he left a big void which Floriana once again found it very difficult to fill.

There were other centre-forwards after Cauchi but none has managed to reach the exceptional high standard of ‘Il-Majsi’.

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