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Centre-half Psaila creates family legacy

Gejtu Psaila, Il-Ħaċċa, (left) and his two sons Gejtu Junior (centre) and Romeo.

Gejtu Psaila, Il-Ħaċċa, (left) and his two sons Gejtu Junior (centre) and Romeo.

Gejtu Psaila was rated by many old-timers a close second to his contemporary Ruggieru ‘Żibġa’ Friggieri as the greatest-ever Maltese footballer.

Psaila started his career in 1910, the year Ħamrun Spartans were formed. Il-Haċċa stayed with the Spartans for eight seasons, helping them win the league championship in 1913-14 and 1917-18. He became a legend in his own lifetime. The mere mention of his name still makes the heart of every true Ħamrun supporter beat rapidly.

In 1918-19, Psaila won another league championship medal with the KOMRM.

In season 1920-21, he joined the newly-formed club of Marsa United, leading the team to the runners-up position in the Civilian Football League. At the end of the season, he left the Army and joined the Malta Police.

His career looked as good as over because the police were not allowed to play football in those days but, together with other famous Maltese footballers of that era, he formed the Malta Police Football Team.

Psaila was the star of season 1921-22. He captained the team from the centre-half position, which, in those days, was the most important position on the field.

The central defender had to be tall, strong and skilful because he had to attack with his forwards and also defend when needed.

During his career, Psaila excelled at centre-half, although he was equally at home at centre-forward, full-back or half-back.

In 1922, he made football history when he became Malta’s first professional footballer. Psaila was prised away from the Police to play full-time for Floriana.

He enjoyed three successul seasons with the Greens, winning the league championship in 1924-25 and the Cassar Cup in 1923.

It is a pity that records for this period are very sketchy and we can never be sure of how many first-class matches Psaila played in his career.

Psaila was given VIP treatment at Floriana. His son, Romeo, once told me that a horse cab was sent on matchdays to pick up his mother and take her to the Empire Stadium. There, a seat was reserved for Mrs Psaila in the VIP area.

Psaila starred in an era when the game was played by individuals. Skills and a certain amount of star-quality were the main ingredients of a great footballer. He had both in abundance.

There are no players of his calibre nowadays. That’s why his memory will live on forever. He died on March 14, 1968.

Gejtu had two sons, Gejtu Jr and Romeo, both of whom played professional football at the end of the Second World War.

Gejtu Jr made his bow in Maltese football with Luqa St Andrew’s in 1949-50, forming part of the team which beat Hibernians in the Scicluna Cup ‘B’ final.

The next season he signed for Ħamrun, making his debut on October 8, 1950 against Valletta. He marked that occasion by scoring a goal.

Between 1950 and 1958, Gejtu Jr played 94 league games for the Spartans and scored 30 goals. A bustling type of centre-forward typical of his era, he played up to the 1958-59 season when he left for Australia.

Romeo, perhaps, was the more skilful of the two brothers.

A touchline-hugging outside left he could dribble his way past defenders with ease and centre the ball with great accuracy.

Romeo made his debut for the Spartans in the FA Trophy against Luqa St Andrew’s on April 1, 1951.

From then on, he made the number 11 jersey his own and up to 1957 he had played 60 league for the Spartans and scored 18 goals.

In 1960, he joined St Patrick but only played seven first division league games for the club from Żabbar as, unfortunately for him, he was forced to retire because of a recurring injury.

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