In the 1940s and 1950s, the streets and ditches of Floriana were always full of youngsters playing football.
There were no nurseries in those days and no football grounds where boys could develop their natural skills.
The young ones did not have expensive football kits. Many times, they used an old patched-up ball but they had plenty of enthusiasm and a huge love for the game which surpassed all obstacles.
It is now part of football lore and legend how, out of the devastation of the Second World War, emerged a generation of great footballers in Floriana.
The story of the Ajax is famous but few recall that there was a second generation of that famous group of youngsters. They were ‘The Colts’ or ‘Little Ajax’, which produced such fine footballers as Tony Cauchi , Frans Xuereb, Pullu Mousu, the Sultana brothers, Twanny, Ritchie and Leli, and the subject of this week’s article, Lolly Vella, Il-Roy.
Born in Floriana on August 7, 1933, Vella was the younger brother of the famous Ajax half-back, Tony Vella. Like many youngsters of his age, he kicked his first ball at the local primary school. His natural skills, however, soon caught the attention of the Floriana FC committee and he was channelled into the Greens’ youth teams.
After serving his apprenticeship in the junior strings, Vella made his debut for the senior team on December 12, 1950 in the 5-1 victory over St George’s. He could not have had a better baptism. Although only 16, he showed the maturity of a player twice his age and capped a memorable performance with a superb goal.
However, for the next game against Ħamrun, he was moved from the wing to the centre-forward position where his dash and attacking qualities could be better exploited. It was a stroke of genius because Vella so impressed in his new role that he kept his place in the first team.
Vella scored five goals in nine league matches in his first season with the senior team. He also scored a hat-trick against Melita FC in the first round of the FA Trophy.
A championship medal in his first season was just reward to this talented centre-forward.
Vella continued to improve and in the next five seasons he increased his collection to four championship, two FA Trophy and two Cassar Cup medals... not bad for a 21-year-old!
Between 1950 and 1956, Vella played 73 competitive matches for Floriana and scored 16 goals.
He also played in 15 prestigious friendly matches against visiting foreign teams for Floriana, the Army XI and the MFA XI.
Vella was picked to play for the MFA XI four times at a time when the national team only played a couple of matches during a season.
The sky seemed to be the limit for this exciting footballer but then, like a bolt out of the blue, he announced that he was going to join his older brother Tony in Australia.
To lose not one but two of their best players in a matter of months was hard to swallow for the Floriana fans.
It was a sad evening when, on February 27, 1956, the Floriana FC committee, colleagues and close friends gathered at the club’s premises to bid farewell to Vella.
Floriana FC president A. Farrugia made a rousing speech and presented Vella with a token cash present while captain Lolly Debattista handed him a silver framed photograph of the team as a keepsake.
Vella continued to live in Australia where he died on October 1, 2012.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us