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Farrugia halts Floriana march

Leonard Farrugia... Valletta stalwart.Leonard Farrugia... Valletta stalwart.

Slightly built and rather small, Leonard Farrugia did not fit well into the image of the traditional centre-forward.

Yet, despite his small frame Farrugia developed into one of the deadliest Maltese goal-scorers of his era. What for many seemed to be his biggest deficiency was really his number one advantage.

Quick as a bolt of lightning, he used his speed and sharpness of mind to nip in the fray and score vital goals. It was a gross mistake to leave Farrugia unmarked as many of his opponents realised to their peril.

Born on November 23, 1956 in Kirkop, he started his career with his home town club in the lower divisions of the league.

Many clubs showed interest in him but his father curbed his enthusiasm and convinced him to stay and serve his apprenticeship with Kirkop.

By 1975-76, Farrugia was ready to face the challenges of first-class football and he was loaned for one season to St George’s.

At the time, the Saints were enjoying a short run in the top flight of Maltese football. It was the perfect setting for a young and aspiring footballer. Farrugia, therefore, could ply his trade in an atmosphere devoid of the pressures and heartbreaks of a team fighting for honours.

He left a very good impression in his new surroundings and at the end of the season Kirkop were bombarded with offers for his transfer.

Sliema Wanderers, Hibernians, Floriana and Valletta wooed the youngster until his head started swimming but, fortunately for him, his father was there to help him make a sound decision.

City transfer move

At the time, Farrugia was working in his father’s lotto booth in Valletta. He had many friends in the city and this more than anything else tipped the balance in favour of Valletta.

Farrugia showed his worth from the start. In his first season with the Citizens he scored the all-important goal in the FA Trophy final.

There is a tale behind that match which, any Valletta supporter worth his salt will tell you.

Floriana were the league champions and they had gone through 37 competitive matches without defeat. A game between the two neighbours is always a blood and fire affair but this one was blown out of proportions.

Floriana were confident of victory. Their long unbeaten run made them feel invincible, but late in the game Farrugia produced a characteristic spurt of genius and scored the only goal of the game to take the trophy to Valletta and stop the Greens’ long run of successes.

What better way is there to win the hearts of the City faithful?

The next season Valletta went one better.

They won the championship and retained the FA Trophy after beating Floriana once again in the final.

Farrugia celebrated that occasion by finishing top scorer with 16 goals.

In 1979-80, Farrugia won another league championship, again finishing at the top of the scorers’ list with 15 goals. In 1984-85, he repeated his feat, this time with 10 goals.

That season, Farrugia added the Footballer of the Year award to his growing list of honours.

Farrugia’s consistency was legendary. Injuries which usually lay out a player for a long time hardly seemed to bother him.

In his first 10 seasons with Valletta he missed only four league matches and between 1981 and 1986 he went through five seasons without missing a game.

Then, disaster struck. It was January 24, 1987 and Farrugia was playing for the national team against Italy in Bergamo.

He was giving the Italian defence a testing time on that occasion until defender Antonio Cabrini rashly tackled him from behind and he went down in great pain.

It was a tough tackle, although one must admit that it was not meant to cripple Farrugia. It was, however, a serious injury from which the City striker never recovered.

Farrugia was out of the game for the rest of the season.

He was operated on in Italy but he never regained his form and although he tried to make a comeback the next season, he failed his test.

After that Farrugia retired to take up a career in coaching.

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