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Nicholl – 15 years since he passed away

Tony NicholTony Nichol

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the demise of the great Tony Nicholl, the Sliema Wanderers FC legendary footballer whose name is indelibly printed in the history of Maltese sport.

The player lit our stadia as probably few others did. This was manifested in his innate ability to score innumerable goals with either foot as well as with his deadly headers.

There was hardly a match in which he played when he did not send the opposing net bulging.

Such scoring ability, besides his formidable aerial power, were skills which the elderly football followers could admire in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

I was fortunate enough to be one of them, albeit in the late stages of his exceptional 26-year career in top class football.

The legacy Nicholl bequeathed to the Maltese game is arguably unmatched. He was an icon admired by his sporting colleagues and foes alike and, naturally, his team’s fans and all lovers of football.

His qualities on the field of play were emulated by his exceptional gentlemanly conduct on and off the pitch. Team-mates and opposing players could vouch for this.

Nicholl was extremely versatile and able to perform well in any position. He played on the attacking flanks, in a central striking role and, before he retired, also in the middle of a defensive pack. These all-purpose qualities were also noted beyond our shores.

It is, in fact, recorded that family reasons precluded Nicholl from joining the then top division English team Charlton Athletic who made repeated attempts to sign him.

Who knows what would have happened in this regard if he had lived in our era?

The youngest of 23 siblings, born in 1916 to Annie, nee Camilleri, and Samuel Nicholl, Tony started his footballing days in Sliema’s Primary School. Family relocation then took him temporarily to Marsa school.

In those early days he was given the goalkeeper’s role, even if he was reluctant to play in that position. On returning to the Sliema school he played in his favourite outfield forward position. He then attended Stella Maris College and was soon part of the strong school team.

His skills blossomed as he started playing for several Sliema amateur teams before he joined the Wanderers’ nursery, Sliema Rovers, and eventually Sliema’s senior team in 1931.

That year heralded the beginning of a glittering career for the Wanderers. It lasted just over a quarter of a century, dotted by countless goals, top scorer awards and honours for his team, and capped by the 1955-1956 Footballer of the Year.

With the Wanderers he won ten championships, nine FA Trophy medals, seven Cassar Cups, plus one with Valletta as a guest player, and six times the Scicluna Cup.

Malta, including the football fraternity, was the poorer when he passed away on the March 11, 1999. Sliema Wanderers, the team he played and lived for, were close to his heart almost as much as his cherished family.

The man surely deserves a place in the pantheon of Sliema’s history.

Various attempts have been made in recent years for a memorial to be built in a very central place of the town where he was born and bred.

It is very unfortunate that these efforts have not yet materialised.

All Maltese, football lovers in particular, will agree that a commemorative statue would be a fitting and deserved tribute to this remarkable footballer and sportsman.

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