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Holland dedicates entire career to Floriana

John Holland

John Holland

If I were asked to name the most distinctive player to wear the famous colours of Floriana FC in modern time football then, I would not hesitate to say John Holland.

Born in Sliema on July 7, 1953, Holland comes from a family with deep football traditions. His grandfather was the founder of Melita FC, Gianni Bencini.

Bencini was one of the pioneers of Maltese football. In his long and influential career he also gave sterling service as an administrator to Floriana FC and the Malta Football Association. John’s father also played football before the war as did his famous uncles Karl, Victor and George Bencini.

One can also mention his brothers, Julian and Dorian, and his son Jonathan who all donned the green shirt of Floriana.

With such a pedigree John could not fail to make a career in football. He started with his grandfather’s old club in 1970. He was, however, too big a prospect for Melita Amateurs and in 1969 he joined Floriana.

At Floriana, he found the rich pasture he needed to develop his enormous talent. Encouraged by his indomitable mother, it was not long before he was being hailed as a future Floriana and Malta star.

Mrs Holland knew more about football than most men. She encouraged all her sons to play the game but John was probably her favourite. He was surely the one who gave her most satisfaction.

Floriana did not have long to wait for their protégé to burst on the local scene. He made his first-team debut on November 27, 1971 in the 0-0 draw against Gżira United in the league. His performance that day was more than satisfactory and he kept his place in the team for more than half the season.

Then he lost his place and he had to wait until the FA Trophy to win it back. Holland came on as a substitute in the final to win the first honour of his career.

From then on Holland never looked back. In a career lasting more than 20 years he played 327 competitive matches for Floriana. The 1970s were indeed fruitful years for the Greens. Holland quickly established himself in the team and he was made captain.

Then came the 1980s and with them came years of want and heartbreak. During this decade Floriana had only one FA Trophy victory in 1980-81 to show for their efforts.

In 1984-85 the club also suffered the indignity of relegation for the first and only time in their history.

Holland, however, led the club through this difficult period with dignity. Promising youngsters were roped in and he proved to be the ‘father figure’ they needed to help them make the grade in first class football.

His national team career is also one of distinction. Making his debut on August 24, 1974 against Libya, Holland went on to wear the Malta jersey 61 times, 42 of them consecutive and 44 as captain.

Twice winner of the Footballer of the Year Award in 1975-76 and 1977-78, Holland played against some of the best European opposition of his era.

A game which he surely remembers, was played on September 20, 1972 when he led Floriana to football history. For once, the Maltese had the satisfaction of seeing a local team beat one of the giants of European football. It was a rare and historic moment when, against all expectations, Floriana beat Ferencvaros, 1-0 at the Gżira Stadium.

Another game which stands out in this great player’s career, was that of 1973-74 against Bruges.

In the away match, Floriana lost both goalkeepers through injury. There was nothing left to be done, someone had to go in goal for the game to continue. Holland volunteered for the job and although there was still a long time left for the end of the match he did quite well in the circumstances.

He only let in two goals, which one must say, would have beaten any other regular goalkeeper.

Holland played his last match for Floriana on April 1, 1989, a FA Trophy encounter against St George’s.

Floriana beat the Saints 5-0 but on that day they lost one of their greatest players ever.

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