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Gabaretta achieves greatness in 15-year career

I have been asked many times who, in my opinion, was the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Maltese football.

And, I never hesitated to mention Wenzu Gabaretta as my choice. I am sure that many who have seen him in action will agree with me.

Gabaretta was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1917. His parents, who were Maltese emigrants, wanted their son to study law.

When he was 13, he was enrolled in the British Boys College and stayed there for a year when the sudden death of his father forced him to abandon his studies.

Gabaretta originally played at centre-forward but pre­ferred to play in goal and, on leaving the college, he joined Melita FC, of Alexandria, as a goalkeeper.

He was soon rated as the best goalkeeper in the city. In 1936, he felt the urge to return to his father's land and it was not long before his ta­lents were recognised by the Tigers, of Floriana. He was an instant success and at the end of the 1936-37 season, he was snapped up by St George’s.

Gabaretta had a great season with the Saints but then he joined the Navy and his permission to play with civilian clubs was withheld.

In 1939, he was given permission to turn out for St George’s but by this time the Saints had signed Harry Edwards from Sliema Wanderers.

On November 1, 1939, St George’s paraded their new signing in the league match against Msida St Joseph.

Gabaretta, however, was not dropped from the team and made his appearance in the unusual position of centre-forward.

It was not the last time that he played in that role.

Gabaretta’s career really came into its own after the war.

Yet, despite his great abilities, he did not win many honours. In a career spanning over 15 years, he only won the FA Trophy once, a Cassar Cup and a Victory Cup medal – meagre rewards for such a great football personality.

Gabaretta gave up first-class football in 1952 but continued playing in the Second and Third Division for St George’s well into the sixties.

When he finally hung up his boots he took up coaching and shortly before his death he was still active.

Gabaretta played many great games in his career. His best, perhaps, was that against Ferencvaros in 1937 when he single-handedly defied the mighty Magyars.

There was, however, another game which merits mention. It was December 15, 1946 and Gabaretta was keeping goal for St George’s in a key league game against Valletta.

It had rained heavily all day, turning the pitch into a pool of mud. Yet, City’s Salvinu Schembri was at his best on the slippery, villainous pitch of the old ground.

However, on the day, Gabaretta was his equal.

The game started with two first-class saves from Gabaretta. Then, Schembri waltzed his way into the  penalty area, snipped the ball across the goalmouth where Vassallo was waiting to shoot home.

The shouting had barely abated when Zammit squared the ball to Schembri who hit the ball on the run and it flew towards Gabaretta’s left-hand post like a bullet.

The City crowd let out a loud roar but Gabaretta produced a terrific save. Diving to his left he beat the speed, force and direction of the ball and turned it away for a corner.

Valletta did score another goal that day but the main talking point was Gabaretta’s memorable save.

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