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Champagne for Floriana, tears for Ħamrun Spartans

Hugh Caruana scored many fine goals in his career but none perhaps as important as the one he got against his old club Sliema Wanderers in 1970 which gave Floriana the championship.

Hugh Caruana scored many fine goals in his career but none perhaps as important as the one he got against his old club Sliema Wanderers in 1970 which gave Floriana the championship.

Floriana started their 1969-70 league campaign very indifferently.

In their first three matches they beat Gżira 2-0, drew 0-0 with Valletta and beat Qormi 1-0.

In the meantime Sliema and Hibernians were sharing top spot in the table with Floriana.

The match between Sliema and Floriana ended in a 2-2 draw, a result which favoured Hibernians, but it was a fair outcome.

The Greens had more of the proceedings but Sliema were reduced to ten men early in the second half.

With Hibs and Valletta sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw, things remained unchanged at the top.

Floriana breathed easier but then they dropped a precious point against Ħamrun and, when Hibs beat Gżira 3-1, they lost the leadership for the first time that season.

On February 1, Hibs met Floriana in what could be described as the most important match of the first round. Floriana had Louis Arpa in top form to tip the scales in their favour.

The first half was all but over when Arpa waltzed his way through a crowded penalty area before placing the ball over Freddie Debono.

It was an isolated moment of brilliance but it was just enough to give the Greens a precious victory over the champions.

This win instilled in Floriana the confidence they lacked during the first part of the season. Yet, ironically, in their next match against Gżira, over-confidence was their undoing.

An early goal gave them a false sense of security. They wasted several chances and paid dearly for that as in nipped Grech to score a dramatic equaliser.

Hibs’ match against Sliema was their last chance of retaining the championship. It was not their day, however, as the Blues got a morale-boosting goal with the first kick of the match. Sliema made the Paolites look like third-raters.

It was now just like old times with Sliema and Floriana fighting neck and neck for the title.

Floriana opened up the challenge with a convincing 2-0 victory over Qormi and when Ħamrun beat Msida 5-1, the relegation issue was thrown wide open.

Shock results

The Spartans, who were only one place away from the bottom, won a valuable point off Sliema. The next day Hibs played a mediocre game against Msida from which they could only take home a point.

Only Floriana emerged un-scathed from this whirlpool of unexpected outcomes.

The league continued with Sliema beating Gżira and Floriana just scraping past Msida. This result condemned the Saints to Sunday morning football.

The next weekend things stabilised a bit. Hibs beat Qormi 2-0 and, with Ħamrun drawing 0-0 against Valletta, the worse seemed to be over for the Reds.

April 18 was the decisive day. Floriana met the Wanderers in what proved to be the league decider.

There was complete equilibrium and the match seemed heading for a goalless draw when Hugh Caruana scored the goal which gave the championship to Floriana.

There was no stopping Floriana now. The following weekend they were crowned champions with a 3-1 victory over the Spartans.

Floriana’s celebrations proved to be Ħamrun’s undoing. The day before, Gżira beat Hibernians 2-0 and these two results pushed the Spartans right into the relegation quagmire.

With only one round of matches left, both Gżira and Ħamrun had 11 points and Qormi ten. The latter seemed to have the best chance of escaping relegation because they still had to play against Msida while Ħamrun and Gżira were involved in a direct clash.

One could not have hoped for a more exciting finale.

It was celebration day for the new league champions but, before Floriana’s last match against Hibs, Gżira beat Ħamrun 2-0 to drop the Spartans deeper into trouble.

I still have vivid recollections of that afternoon. I can still hear the cries of desperation of the Spartans’ supporters as they urged their team to greater efforts.

It was all to no avail, however, and the desperation of the Reds’ fans was fully demonstrated the next weekend in the full-bloodied support they gave to Msida.

Qormi, however, were in no mood to dish out favours. They beat the Saints 3-1 in a tension-packed match to save their skins and plunge the Spartans into the Second Division.

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