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The first ever league decider

St George’s FC, winners of the 1916-17 league championship after beating Sliema Wanderers 4-0 in the first ever decider.

St George’s FC, winners of the 1916-17 league championship after beating Sliema Wanderers 4-0 in the first ever decider.

In 1916-17 Floriana did not take part in the league.

Their players moved to other teams and St George’s made the best acquisition when they signed stalwart Ruġġieru Friggieri.

The rivalry between the Cospicua and Floriana camps made it next to impossible for a Greens’ player to sign for St George’s. Friggieri, however, was a professional who generally let financial matters rather than his heart guide him in his decisions.

Salvu Tabone signed for his home town club, Ħamrun Spartans, and Jack Herbert joined Valletta United.

The league kicked off on October 29, 1916 with the game between Sliema Wanderers and Vittoriosa Rovers.

The Wanderers dominated the game from start to finish, taking a three-goal half-time lead. In the second period, the Blues added four more goals to win 7-0.

Two of the league’s favourites, the Spartans and St George’s, clashed on November 5, 1916. Ħamrun led 1-0 at half-time. The Saints made many attempts to draw level but luck was against them and they could not score.

The Spartans were now primed to win the championship but in their next game, they were held to a 2-2 draw by Valletta.

Disappointed and dejected, St George’s faced Vittoriosa Rovers in their second match of the competition. The Rovers were a very weak side but against their neighbours, they lifted their game considerably and the Saints could only win narrowly 1-0.

Their only goal was scored by Friggieri from the penalty spot. The Saints then stepped up their challenge with another 1-0 victory over Floriana Liberty.

In those days, when the league was still played on a one-round basis, the fortunes of the participants varied from game to game.

So, when Valletta held the Spartans to a 2-2 draw they began to harbour ideas of winning the league. Their hopes were dashed when on December 15 they lost to Sliema.

St George’s met Sliema on December 22. The Saints won 2-0 to give their beleaguered supporters an early Christmas present. Then, they beat Valletta 1-0 on January 14, 1917 to overtake Ħamrun at the top of the table.

The Saints, however, could be overtaken if Ħamrun beat Sliema in the last match of the competition. A draw would have brought the Spartans and St George’s on equal points, while a win for Sliema meant they would have to play a decider against St George’s.

The competition could not have had a more exciting finale. This was one of the few advantages of the one-round league system as every point counted.

On the day of the big match, every inch of space in the Mile End Ground was packed.

The match started with Sliema on the attack and Colley gave them an early lead. Ten minutes later Carmelo Inglott scored again to put them on velvet but Ħamrun hit back strongly.

Three times the Spartans had the ball in the net but each time the referee disallowed the goal for some infringement. Not surprisingly the Spartans lost their heads. Trouble erupted and it was a miracle that the game continued.

At the final whistle, however, Sliema still had their two-goal advantage.

In the days and weeks after this game, there was a lot of bickering between the MFA and Ħamrun over the control of the referee. It was all to no avail however. The result stood and nearly a month later – March 4, 1917 – the Wanderers met St George’s in the decider.

Another great match was expected but unfortunately an authentic report of this game does not exist. All we know is that St George’s won 4-0 to claim their first and only championship in the history of the club.

One can imagine the joy and enthusiasm of the fans. I know from my conversations with old-timers that, when the team arrived home with the cup, bands of supporters wearing the colours of Cospicua danced and capered in the streets of the city until the early hours.

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