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Nicholl shines in Cassar Cup final

Sliema Wanderers 1956-57. (Back row, left to right) Alex Gollcher, Salvu Bonnici, Guzi Bonnici, Ninu Calleja, Victor Scerri. (Front row) Robbie Buttigieg, Salvinu Schembri, Tony Nicholl, Joe Xuereb, Lolly Cuschieri, Sammy Nicholl.

Sliema Wanderers 1956-57. (Back row, left to right) Alex Gollcher, Salvu Bonnici, Guzi Bonnici, Ninu Calleja, Victor Scerri. (Front row) Robbie Buttigieg, Salvinu Schembri, Tony Nicholl, Joe Xuereb, Lolly Cuschieri, Sammy Nicholl.

In 1956-57 the traditional charity Cassar Cup competition was played in September before the start of the league campaign and Sliema Wanderers started the season on a top note when they beat Ħamrun Spartans in the final.

Before the Cassar Cup got underway an unusual, but interesting, argument arose about the draw.

Sliema and Floriana asked to be kept apart in the semi-finals as in the old days when the Services used to take part in the competition. They argued that if they were kept apart before the final it would make the competition more interesting and more money would be collected for charity.

Needless to say, Ħamrun and Birkirkara did not agree with this argument which showed, if nothing else, the way the local game was dominated by Sliema and Floriana in that period.

The Old Firm rivals considered themselves to be above other clubs and expected special treatment and favours from the Malta FA.

Fortunately, for the sake of fairness, the MFA did not accept the proposals submitted by Sliema and Floriana and the draw went on as usual.

A preliminary match was played between Birkirkara and Hibernians which the Stripes won 1-0 thanks to an opportunistic goal by outside-right Bonnici.

In the semi-finals, Sliema found in Birkirkara a tough side to beat but once Tony Nicholl had opened the score from the penalty spot, things were easier for the Wanderers.

In the second period, they looked more determined and two other goals from Nicholl and Joe Xuereb booked them a place in the final.

The other semi-final was more intriguing. Both teams had new players in their line-up and the newcomers made the encounter much more balanced.

Ħamrun paraded Gejtu Busuttil in goal, full-backs Freddie Falzon and Freddie Sciberras, left-half Effie Borg and forwards J. Psaila, Victor Grima and ‘Ebejer.

Floriana made use of ex-Melita goalkeeper Edwin Zammit and also introduced young players Roy Swift, Freddie Vella James and Frank Bonello.  The match was lively with both teams sharing the early exchanges.

At the end, however, it was the Spartans who emerged victorious with two goals from George Jones. Tony Cauchi’s goal came to no avail for Floriana.

A lot was expected from the Spartans in the final after their excellent victory over the Greens. Once again, however, Ħamrun let their supporters down badly as Sliema coasted home to a 5-0 victory.

The hero of this match was Sammy Nicholl. The quick-moving forward showed all the goal-scoring instincts of his famous uncle Tony, scoring a memorable hat-trick.

The other goals were netted by Xuereb and Robbie Buttigieg who was then, at the start of a long and glorious career for the Wanderers.

This victory was the first step for Sliema’s triple crown that season – league, Scicluna Cup and Cassar Cup.

After the match, the governor presented the Cassar Cup to veteran Blues captain Tony Nicholl and a miniature cup to vice-captain Salvinu Schembri.

An interesting footnote to this story is the total number of spectators who paid to watch the two semi-finals and the final.

That season was not one of the best years of the Cassar Cup. Still, a total of 18,372 spectators went through the turnstiles.

This figure makes us wonder what is happening to our national game when the average attendance for a league game here has dwindled significantly below those levels.

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