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The agony and ecstasy

Floriana 1969-70 champions: (Back row, left to right) Anton Camilleri, Alfred Debono, Charlie Farrugia, Frankie Micallef, Tony Borg. (Squatting) Salvu Borg, Charlie Galea, Ray Xuereb, Louis Arpa, Willie Vassallo, Hughie Caruana.

Floriana 1969-70 champions: (Back row, left to right) Anton Camilleri, Alfred Debono, Charlie Farrugia, Frankie Micallef, Tony Borg. (Squatting) Salvu Borg, Charlie Galea, Ray Xuereb, Louis Arpa, Willie Vassallo, Hughie Caruana.

Floriana started their 1969-70 lea-gue campaign very indifferently.

In their first match they beat Gżira 2-0 and then drew 0-0 with Valletta. Their performances left a lot to be desired and their next match was not much different.

Qormi went for a draw and it was only in a last desperate attack that Floriana scored. Qormi skipper Meli cleared off the fatal line only for the ball to roll into the patch of Grech to help it into the net.

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

The match between Sliema and Floriana attracted a large crowd to the stadium. The final result was a 2-2 draw, an outcome that favoured Hibs, but it was a just result.

Floriana saw more of the ball but Sliema had to play for most of the second half with 10 men.

With Hibs and Valletta sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw, things remained unchanged at the top of the table. Floriana breathed easier but then they dropped a precious point against Ħamrun and when Hibs beat Gzira 3-1, they lost the league 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.

Such contests usually ended in a draw but this time Floriana had Louis Arpa in top form to tip the scales in their favour.

The first half was all but over when Arpa ran on to a free-kick. Winning the ball, he waltzed his way through a crowded penalty area before chipping the ball over Freddie Debono’s head.

It was an isolated bit of magic but enough to give the Greens a precious victory.

That match gave Floriana the confidence they lacked during the first part of the season.

Yet, ironically, in their next outing against Gżira over-confidence was their undoing.

An early goal gave them a false sense of security. They wasted several chances but in football no one can take such liberties.

The final minutes ticked away when 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. Getting a morale-boosting goal with the first kick of the match, Sliema rattled Hibs, making them look like third-raters.

Old Firm contest

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

Floriana opened up the challenge with a 2-0 victory over Qormi as Ħamrun beat Msida 5-1 to throw the relegation issue wide open.

Gżira, who together with Ħam-run and Qormi were involved in the drop zone, beat Valletta 2-0. Ħamrun then 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-scratched from this whirlpool of unexpected results.

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 Spartans.

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

There was equilibrium on the field and the match seemed to be heading for a goalless draw when Hughie Caruana scored the goal that gave the crown to the Greens.

Now, there was no stopping Floriana and the next 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 had beaten Hibs 2-0 and these two results dropped the Reds right into the relegation quagmire.

With only one round of matches left, both Gżira and Ħamrun had 11 points with Qormi just one point behind. Qormi seemed to have the best chance to survive because they still had to play against Msida while Ħamrun and Gżira had to play against each other.

One could not have hoped for a more exciting finale to the competition.

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

Qormi were in no mood to dish out favours. The next day 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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