Promoted to the First Division in 1950-51, Rabat Ajax enjoyed a short but interesting spell in the top division and in 1953-54 they even challenged for the championship. It was only towards the end of the campaign that they slipped out of the reckoning.
That season, the championship had two peculiarities which made it different from those of the immediate past.
First and foremost, there was Sliema’s achievement in breaking Floriana’s monopoly on the league title and the other was the incon-sistent form of practically all the other contestants.
Although the fight for the championship was limited to Sliema and Floriana, Rabat were still in with a chance up to the last phase.
At the end, however, the Magpies dropped to fourth place on goal average to Ħamrun Spartans.
Rabat had a fine crop of youngsters but the main reason for their success was the signing of player-coach Donald MacDonald.
The Scot’s inclusion in the team made a big difference and under his guidance, the club reached the final of the FA Trophy for the first time in its history.
Once again, as in the previous season, the FA Trophy quarter-finals were scattered along the season. As early as October 1953, Valletta met Ħamrun in the first quarter-final. Although enjoying most of the play, the Citizens were beaten by two goals scored by Reds inside-left Ġużi Buttigieg.
Three months later, Rabat beat Melita 3-1 in a game that attracted little interest.
It was obvious that this system robbed the competition of most of its appeal because the clubs preferred to concentrate on their league commitments and did not give their 100 per cent effort in the KO.
The third quarter-final pitted Sliema against Floriana.
Before this match Sliema had already beaten their rivals 1-0 in the Scicluna Cup final and 3-2 in the league. This time, however, Floriana were luckier. They scored straight from kick-off but Sliema equalised just before the interval.
The Wanderers went ahead in the second period but Floriana hit back almost immediately.
From then on, the exchanges were balanced but 17 minutes from time, Ray Edwards touched the ball with his hand in the box. It was a fatal mistake which gave Floriana a place in the semi-finals.
The last of the quarter-finals was played nearly four months later, a tough encounter in which Hibs beat Birkirkara 3-2.
Hibs scored all their goals in the first half but after the change of ends, Birkirkara made a great comeback which nearly took the game to extra-time.
In the semi-finals, Ħamrun were favourites to beat Rabat. They took an early lead and dominated for the rest of the first period. The second half, however, had a dramatic start when, much against the run of play, the Magpies equalised.
It was now anybody’s game and minutes from the end, Charlie Azzopardi scored the winning goal to send Rabat into their first ever cup final.
Floriana beat Hibernians 4-1 in the other semi-final.
Hibernians, however, played much better than the score suggests. Despite the heat of a June afternoon, the game was very fast with the ball travelling from one end of the pitch to the other. Both teams had their chances but while Floriana took theirs well, Hibs wasted all their efforts.
Rabat were no match for Floriana in the final.
From the moment the Greens went ahead after only five minutes, there was never any doubt that they would retain the FA Trophy.
They were in a class of their own as the 5-1 scoreline shows.
For Rabat, it was a disappointing end to a season in which they had promised a lot only to lose their way in the final weeks.