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Shadows from the past: Formosa… a fine and loyal goalkeeper

Johnnie Formosa receiving a medal after his fine performance against Vasas of Hungary in 1948.Johnnie Formosa receiving a medal after his fine performance against Vasas of Hungary in 1948.

On Monday, the death of Johnnie Formosa was announced.

Formosa, who was affectionately known as ‘The Skipper’, was one of the most under-rated goalkeepers in the history of Maltese football. 

He was a fine goalkeeper, yet when great Maltese custodians are mentioned, his name is always passed over. This is probably because he spent all his career with Hibernians at a time when the team from Paola were rarely serious contenders for honours.

Yet, if he wanted to, Formosa could have played for any other team and collected many honours but he was always loyal to his hometown club.

Formosa played many great games for Hibs and representative XI’s, but there is one game which stands out from all the others. 

On Sunday, March 29, 1948, he was picked to play for a Hibs-Ħamrun-Sliema XI against the all-conquering Vasas of Hungary. That day he thrilled the Stadium crowd with a magnificent performance.

The Vasas tourney was characterised by high scores as the Hungarians made havoc of every opposition thrown against them. 

The game had a thrilling start. 

After only 15 minutes each team had already scored two goals. 

Decveseri opened the score in the sixth minute when he beat Formosa with a deflected shot.

A minute later the Maltese equalised. 

A quick throw-in by Maurice DeCesare to Buttigieg and the latter tapped the ball to Freddie Landolina to glide into the net.

This goal served as a tonic for the Maltese selection. 

The locals pressed forward and two minutes later they went ahead. 

Pirotta, burst through only to be pushed to the floor by Moor.

From the resultant free-kick, Edwards surprised Turay with a rising shot which the goalkeeper could only punch away.

Landolina was first on the rebound to fire home.

With a goal in arrears, the Magyars went all-out for the equaliser. 

Formosa was soon called upon to keep out a hard drive by Szilagyi II.  

In the tenth minute Vasas equalised. 

A long clearance by Moor was headed backwards by Szilagyi II to Toth who let loose a low shot that rolled into the corner of the net.

On the half hour, Kantor slipped through but with only Formosa to beat he lobbed over the bar. 

The Magyars kept coming, but Formosa was in a defiant mood. A first-timer on the turn by Szilagyi II was well saved by the Maltese goalkeeper. 

At the other end DeCesare dispossessed Lorinc, tricked Savoresky and ran through on the flank, but instead of passing, he shot straight into Turay’s hands.

Formosa then somehow repelled Toth’s firm drive with Eddie Cole completing the clearance.

Five minutes later Decveseri received from Kantor and shot straight at goal. Formosa seemed to have the ball well covered but it was deflected by a defender into the net.

A minute before half-time, Pirotta went through on his own but before he could shoot he was pushed from behind by Moor. It was a clear penalty.

The Hungarians protested vehemently but the referee was unmoved and pointed to the spot. 

Buttigieg took the kick but hit the upright. The linesman however signalled that the goalkeeper had moved before the kick was taken and the referee ordered a re-take. 

This time Edwards made no mistake from the spot.

Moor failed to keep control of his temper and was dismissed.  Shortly afterwards came the half-time whistle with the teams level at 3-3.

During the second half, Formosa gave a spectacular performance. 

Toth started the assault when he headed a cross-pass by Kantor which the goalkeeper saved well. 

Two minutes later, Szilagyi I saw his shot just missing the upright after receiving from Decveseri.

The latter however, soon tested Formosa with a hard drive which the Hibs’ goalkeeper just tipped around the upright. 

Shots were rained on him from every conceivable angle but nothing could beat him. 

The Hungarians were becoming desperate.

At the end, however, luck always seems to abandon the Maltese. 

Only two minutes were left for play when Illovsky received a defence-splitting pass from Marik. The Maltese defence was caught napping, and Formosa could do nothing but watch the ball finish into his net.

It was however, the ‘Skipper’s’ finest moment and he left the ground accompanied by a standing ovation from the Maltese fans.

Johnnie Formosa will always be remembered in Paola.

He was not only a great goalkeeper but he was also honest and loyal to his club throughout his colourful career.

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