Saturday’s BOV Premier League decider between Birkirkara and Hibernians is generating a lot of interest.
It is just what the doctor has ordered for a moribund game which, in the last few months, had touched rock-bottom.
Suddenly, one of the dullest seasons in the history of the game on our islands has been transformed into a nailbiting affair which should bring back many of the missing thousands to the National Stadium.
This is not the first time that the championship has ended in a decider though.
Since the first season in 1909-10, there have been five other occasions when the championship went into a decider. The other occasions were:
1916-17 St George’s vs Sliema Wanderers 4-0.
1917-18 Ħamrun Spartans vs St George’s 4-2.
1939-40 Sliema Wanderers vs St George’s 2-1.
1970-71 Sliema Wanderers vs Marsa 3-0.
1971-72 Sliema Wanderers vs Floriana 2-0.
It is 41 years since the last decider. I remember that season quite well and also the one before.
In 1970-71, the First Division was made up of eight teams which, in my opinion, is the best number for a small country like ours.
With this format, especially if two sides are relegated, the teams are more or less of the same calibre, resulting in a more com-petitive championship.
Every game is important and boring middle-of-the-table encounters are reduced to a minimum.
Despite all this, 1970-71 had nothing to commend it. It was a lacklustre campaign, devoid of any good football.
So, in 1971-72 the number of teams was increased to 10. This was the only difference between the two seasons. Both campaigns were as alike as two peas in a pod.
It was another mediocre campaign and to increase the similarity, the championship once again ended with a decider.
The 1971-72 campaign was probably more disappointing than the preceding season.
The 10-team set-up resulted in at least four or five teams that were below First Division standard.
The level of play was once again low and, although the interest was kept up to the end of the competition, there were few matches which could be described as exciting, let alone of a high standard.
In 1972, Sliema Wanderers won the championship for the second successive season. This time their main rivals were Old Firm rivals Floriana.
Sliema dominated the competition from start to finish and, with only four games left, they led the field with four points to spare over Floriana and Valletta.
It seemed that the Wanderers would simply coast through but, while Floriana won all their remaining matches, Sliema stumbled and lost two matches.
The Blues lost their advantage and a decider became necessary.
Needless to say the deciding match attracted the biggest crowd of the season. The match was played on May 21, 1972.
Sliema: C. Sciberras, L. Borg, J. Aquilina, J. Serge, L. Micallef, E. Darmanin, R. Cocks, J. Vella, J. Bonett (H. Caruana), R. Aquilina, V. Vassallo.
Floriana: C. Cortis, C. Galea, E. Farrugia, A. Debono, A. Camilleri, F. Micallef, S. Bonello (J. Holland), W. Vassallo, G. Xuereb, L. Arpa, R. Xuereb.
Floriana took control from the kick-off but they suffered a setback when defender Charlie Galea was sent off early in the game by referee Emmanuel Desira. It was a harsh decision which earned the wrath of the Greens fans.
Yet, despite the numerical handicap, the Greens continued to dictate the run of the play.
As the game wore on Sliema came more and more into the picture. They started to create more chances but had to wait until extra-time before Ronnie Cocks and Richard Aquilina finally scored the goals which gave them the championship.
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