The 1982-83 football season was one of the most chaotic in the history of our national sport. There were several episodes that upset the way things were always done in local football.
It was a season when tradition was completely thrown overboard. It also saw the revival of Ħamrun Spartans after many years in the doldrums and the emergence of Rabat Ajax and Żurrieq.
The unfashionable Rabat and Żurrieq gained promotion to the top division and gave notice of their intentions to stay. They made it clear from the start that nothing was going to diminish their determination to keep their place among the elite.
In the circumstances, the inevitable had to happen and one of the established clubs had to give way.
The result was a desperate game of musical chairs which left everyone bemused and bewildered.
In the end, the Spartans won the championship and Sliema Wanderers were relegated for the first and only time in their history.
It was, to say the least, a controversial season which heralded the slide of the two giants of Maltese football, Sliema and Floriana. After that year, football in Malta was never the same again.
By 1983, the Spartans had still to win the FA Trophy.
They had been finalists in 1945-46 and 1968-69, but on both occasions they were beaten by Sliema. In 1982-83, the Spartans were determined to break the hoodoo and add the FA Trophy to the National League Championship.
Hamrun did not have an easy passage to the final. They started with a clear 3-0 victory over Gudja United but then had to overcome the stiff challenge put up by Rabat and Żurrieq.
Against the Magpies, the Spartans could only win with a late penalty while against Żurrieq they had to go through extra time before finally winning 3-1.
Valletta qualified for the final after beating Vittoriosa Stars 5-0, Hibernians 3-1 and St Patrick 1-0.
The Saints were the revelation of the competition. They were the only team from the lower division to reach the semi-finals. In the first round, the First Division champions eliminated Żebbuġ Rangers and in the quarter-finals, St Patrick had to beat none other than the Wanderers.
The Blues looked at the FA Trophy as a means of boosting their morale.
They needed to prove, at least to themselves, that they did not deserve to be relegated. Against St Patrick, however, they met a huge stumbling block.
The Saints shared the spoils with their opponents and although they were lucky when Magri Overend hit a post, they deserved to win the battle. Minutes from the final whistle, Holland scored the all-important goal which eliminated the Wanderers from the competition.
The Saints’ progress was halted by Valletta but, at least, they had the satisfaction of going down fighting.
Goalkeeper Eugenio Duca was outstanding for the team from Żabbar.
Throughout the game he produced numerous saves, some of which bordered on the impossible. He even stopped a penalty and was only beaten once.
Nardu Farrugia scored a late goal to dash the Saints’ dream of reaching the final for the first time in their history.
The final created great interest. What else can one expect from two rival teams like Ħamrun and Valletta?
Matches between these two teams are always hot affairs but the police took no chances and adopted strict measures.
Hundreds of policemen were placed in strategic positions around the stadium to keep rival supporters in check and although the crowd numbered over 10,000, there were no serious incidents.
As for the game itself, it left much to be desired. Leo Refalo opened the scoring after only five minutes and this influenced the rest of the game.
Valletta were visibly shaken and, despite taking control of the game, they could not settle down on the pitch.
The Citizens tried hard to get the goal which would have put them back in the game but as it is nearly always the case, the reverse happened.
Late on, Raymond Xuereb doubled Ħam-run’s lead to kill any hopes Valletta may have had of saving the game. At long last, the FA Trophy had found its way to Ħamrun.
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