Sliema Wanderers’ 1965 adventure in Europe was not only satisfying but it also historic. Their participation started badly but ended on a better note when they be-came the first Maltese team to register a victory in European competition.
The Blues’ opponents in the Champions Cup that season were Panathinaikos, of Greece.
Panathinaikos were not a great team but they knew the game very well. In inside-forward Bellis and their two wingers Kopfachilis and Panarotidis they had three dangerous forwards indeed, and the Sliema defenders found it very difficult to contain them.
By our standards, the Wanderers had a formidable team.
In those days, the Blues had no equal and dominated Maltese football, winning nearly all competitions in which they entered a team.
Already league champions in successive seasons, 1963-64 and 1964-65, they completed a glorious treble at Manoel Island. Therefore, the Blues were confident of gaining a positive result against the Greek champions.
In the first leg, however, they lost 4-1 in Athens. It was a disappointing result but, at least, Joe Cini had the satisfaction of scoring the first goal for Sliema in Europe.
The return match at Manoel Island was a different affair. A goal by centre-forward Leli Micallef gave Sliema their first victory in a European encounter and with a bit of luck they could have even booked a passage into the second round.
During the first half, Sliema had enough chances to level the tie, but when it was not the interventions of Voutzaras, in the Greeks’ goal, there was the erratic shooting of the Blues forwards.
The best Greek player was undoubtedly centre-half Papolidis who time and time again stopped Cini and Micallef in the air and on the ground.
The Sliema players dallied too much with the ball. Cini was unlucky when his shot hit the goalkeeper and from the rebound, Micallef’s effort was stopped on the line by Panousakis.
Then, in the 32nd minute, came the only goal of the match. Papolidis slipped, Micallef found himself alone in front of the goalkeeper but instead of shooting he passed to Ronnie Cocks. The latter passed back to Micallef and this time the centre-forward shot in.
Voutzaras seemed to have saved on the line but after consulting his linesman, referee Concetto Lo-bello allowed the goal to stand.
In the second half, the Greeks’ superior stamina began to tell.
They took control of the game but midway through the half Cocks almost scored a second goal when his hard grounder was saved by the keeper. When Italian Lobello sounded the final whistle, hundreds of Sliema supporters invaded the pitch to carry their heroes off the ground.
This incident showed how easy it was to jump fences in those days. One hated to think what would have happened had the match been more controversial.
Manoel Island was not suitable for first-class football.
This matter of the ground was clearly a case of the game reverting to the old days of the Mile End when security was non-existent and similar incidents were an everyday occurrence.