Football historian and Times of Malta contributor Carmel Baldacchino argues that the origins of the cup competition in Malta stretch back to 1911, well before it became known as the FA Trophy in 1930s after the cup donated by the English FA to its Maltese counterpart...

Contrary to what many people might think, the Maltese Cup did not start in 1934 with the introduction of the FA Trophy but in 1911 with the National Ground Cup.

It is a pity that, at times, we do not have enough pride in our achievements. The Maltese Cup is one of the oldest in the world and we should be proud of this.

Throughout its history, the competition has always been one and the same. The only difference was the trophy that is presented to the winners.

From the very first years of competitive football on our shores, it has been the custom to play a knock-out competition modelled on the English FA Cup.

At first, the winners were presented with a cup by the day’s sponsors.

Between 1911 and 1913, the National Ground Cup and the Gaelic Cup were won by Floriana while the Mile End Cup was won by St George’s.

The original National Ground Cup trophy can still be found at the De Vilhena club but, unfortunately, the Gaelic Cup has been lost.

In 1913-14, the owners of the cigarette firm AG Cousis decided to donate a shield to be played for on an annual basis.

The Cousis Shield was first contested in 1913-14 but that year the competition was not completed.

The next season, the Cousis Shield became a permanent fixture and stayed on the calendar up to 1930-31 when Floriana beat Sliema Wanderers in the final.

That was the 11th edition of the Cousis Shield and, after the 1931 final, it also became the property of Floriana FC.

Sliema, four-times winners of the Shield, should, by right, have retained the trophy but the owner of AG Cousis was a fervent Floriana supporter.

Circumventing the rules, he donated the shield to the ‘Irish’ for safekeeping and that is where it rests up to this day.

In 1927-28 and 1928-29, the trophy was provided by the owners of the Empire Sports Ground. These two competitions were both won by Floriana.

In 1931-32, the MFA did not find a sponsor for the knock-out competition and therefore had to provide the cup themselves.

The final, between Sliema and Valletta United, ended in a 1-1 draw. Because it was very late in the season, the MFA decided to postpone the replay until the start of the new campaign but since Valletta did not form a team, Sliema were declared winners.

Between 1932 and 1934, the competition was not held, possibly because the MFA did not secure a sponsor.

However, in 1934-35, it was resumed with the advent of the FA Trophy.

The first international match played between Italy and England in May 1933 generated a lot of interest in Malta.

The Maltese took sides according to their political beliefs and it was this match which started the feud between local ‘English’ and ‘Italian’ supporters.

It all began when Joe Gasan, together with Messrs Brockdorff of T. Cook and Sons, organised a tour for Maltese supporters of the English team and a group of about 200 made the 28-hour trip by sea and rail to Rome to cheer their favourites.

This was something unheard of in those days. The Maltese party was at the train station to greet the England team on their arrival in Rome.

Later on, they were invited for lunch by Frederick Wall at the Grand Hotel where they were introduced to various personalities from the English party.

The following day, some of the Maltese supporters went along to the stadium where they participated in a kickabout with the English players. The English were so impressed by the whole-hearted support of the Maltese for their team that many articles were written in the press.

Meanwhile, on May 13, 1933 the Stadio Nazionale in Rome was packed with thousands of feverish supporters all cheering the might of the then Fascist Italy, all that is except a small bunch of spectators huddled in three rows of benches just behind the fence surrounding the ground.

The Italians enjoyed the best of the initial exchanges. Backed by the home crowd they surged forward and, after only five minutes, Giovanni Ferrari opened the scoring. Above the din of the home fans, a tiny shout of encouragement for the English could still be heard from Maltese supporters.

This show of defiance was to play a big part in the final outcome.

Midway through the first half, the great Cliff Bastin beat keeper Gianpiero Combi with a great volley to equalise.

To the Italians, Bastin became a menace but to the group of Maltese supporters in that packed stadium, he was a true hero.

The England team officials were so impressed by the courage shown by the Maltese that, on their return home, they recommended that the English FA should donate a commemorative trophy to the MFA to be competed for annually by Maltese clubs.

Thus, the FA Trophy replaced the Cousis Shield and the other host of cups which came before it as the official FA Cup of Malta.

There was a time when the shape of this famous trophy was altered to satisfy the wishes of the sponsors of the competition.

Times change but I must admit that this disregard for tradition was, in my opinion, a very serious flaw in the character of this small but proud nation.

When the sponsorship was over, the trophy was restored to its former glory.

Sliema first and last

The history of the FA Trophy began on April 22, 1935 when Melita met Sliema Rangers in the first-ever match of the competition.

Melita lost 2-1 but not before stretching the first division club to the limit.

And so the stage was set for the first FA Trophy final.

Great rivals Sliema Wanderers and Floriana faced off on June 2, 1935 at the stadium. The Blues won 4-0 to become the first team to write their name on the trophy.

Now, it is time to change the trophy again and, incidentally, the FA Trophy was last lifted by the Wanderers after a penalty shoot-out win against Balzan in the final, played last May.

Thankfully, however, this time we have Malta FA officials who appreciate the history and traditions of this great competition and the changes they will make are all for the good of the competition and the game in particular.

Cup finals before first FA Trophy in 1934-35

1910-11 Floriana vs Valletta United - 2-0 National Cup
1911-12 St George’s vs St Joseph’s United - 3-0 Mile end Cup
1912-13 Floriana vs Hamrun Spartans - 2-0 Gaelic Cup
1913-14 No competition
1914-15 Valletta United vs Sliema Wanderers - 1-0 Cousis shield
1915-16 No competition
1916-17 St George’s vs Valletta United - 1-0 Cousis shield
1917-18 Sliema Wanderers vs Paola Rovers - 3-2 Cousis shield
1918-19 No competition
1919-20 Sliema Wanderers vs Valletta United - 2-0 Cousis shield
1920-21 Valletta United vs Marsa United - 2-0 Cousis shield
1921-22 Floriana vs Sliema Wanderers - 1-0 Cousis shield
1922-23 Floriana vs Sliema Wanderers - 1-0 Cousis shield
1923-24 Sliema Wanderers vs Vittoriosa Rovers - 3-1 Cousis shield
1924-25 No competition
1925-26 Sliema Wanderers vs Floriana - 1-0 Cousis shield
1926-27 St George’s vs Valletta United - 1-0 Cousis shield
1927-28 Floriana vs St George’s - No result* (Cup awarded to Floriana as St George’s did not turn up) Empire SG Cup
1928-29 Floriana vs Valletta United - 2-0 Empire SG Cup
1929-30 No competition
1930-31 Floriana vs Sliema Wanderers - 4-2 Cousis shield
1931-32 Sliema Wanderers vs Valletta United - 1-1* (Cup awarded to Sliema as Valletta did not play replay) MFA Cup
1932-34 No competition
1943-44 Valletta vs Floriana - 2-1 (FA Trophy competition was not held that season) Malta Cup

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