The English say that one must be made to be a goalkeeper.
This saying was especially true when football in Malta was still played on the hard and harsh surface of the Mile End ground and the Empire Stadium.
Yet, despite the obvious disadvantages of those old venues, the country has produced an impressive list of top-class goalkeepers.
The first who is mentioned with respect in the early annals of the local game was Ġużeppi Miggiani. He played for the Malta Athletic club in the 1890s.
It seems from the scant reports we have of those early matches, that Miggiani was a skilful goalkeeper. He was also one of the pioneers of the Malta Football Association.
Another goalkeeper who features in the early history of the game was Carmelo Psaila who started his career with the RMA and St Joseph’s United, of Msida.
Later on, Psaila moved to Floriana FC with whom he won two league championships. Psaila was not a spectacular goalkeeper but he had a safe pair of hands and during his stay with the Greens he did not let in a single goal in competitive football.
Probably the best goalkeeper of the pre-World War One era and the 1920s was Johnnie Perrin, of Msida Rangers and Sliema Wanderers.
Perrin fearlessly rolled and dived on the notorious pitches of the Mile End and the Empire Sports Ground.
Another talented goalkeeper from the 1920s and 1930s was Emmanuel Azzopardi.
Il-Gejta, as he was affectionately known by his numerous admirers, was a legend in his own lifetime.
In his career, Azzopardi won no fewer than seven league cham-pionships, four Cup and two Cassar Cup medals.
Joe Nicholl was another fine goalkeeper from that era.
He shunned the acrobatics of his contemporaries. Instead, Nicholl relied on his acute sense of positioning inside his box.
The 1930s produced two other fine goalkeepers.
The first was Harry Edwards, of Hibernians and Sliema Wanderers.
He distinguished himself for the way he controlled his area. At a time when a goalkeeper rarely ventured out of his posts, Edwards played the role of an extra full-back and sent his defenders forward when his team was attacking.
The other protagonist from that era was the legendary Wenzu Gabaretta.
Gabaretta would win my vote for the title of the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Maltese football.
Born in 1917 in Egypt of Maltese parents, he started as centre forward. However, he preferred to play in goal and was soon rated as the best goalkeeper in Alexandria.
In 1936, he felt the urge to return to his parents’ homeland and it was not long before his talents were recognised by Floriana Tigers.
After a short spell with the famous amateur club, he joined St George’s and from then on he never looked back.
During his long and eventful career he wore the crown of the king of Maltese goalkeepers.
The modern era has also produced a cache of fine goalkeepers.
The most noted of the post-war period were Lolly Rizzo, Ray Cosby and Victor Scerri, of Sliema Wanderers, and Ġużi Alamango, of Floriana.
Later on came Freddie Mizzi and Johnnie Bonello, both of Hibernians, and Valletta FC trio Ċensu Borg Bonaci, Freddie Debono and Frankie Grima.
Then, in the era of the National Stadium at Ta’ Qali, one has to mention the one and only David Cluett, who unfortunately passed away when still in his prime.
There were also a host of others, some of whom, the likes of Mario Muscat, Andrew Hogg and Justin Haber, are still active.
This array of stars does credit to our tiny but talented island.
The list is endless and I’m sure that there are others who left their mark in the local game.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us