A hundred years ago, the biggest rivalry in Maltese football was not that between Sliema Wanderers and Floriana or the one between Valletta and Floriana.
In 1909-10, Floriana's rivalry with St George's was at its peak.
Early in 1909 the two rivals met in the classic Mtarfa Cup match which ended in a draw and was therefore left undecided.
Everyone expected that the game would be replayed but St George's took Floriana to court for a presumed breach of the rules but by the start of the new season the fate of the cup was still undecided.
It took another two years before this argument was finally decided on the field of play in favour of Floriana.
St George's refused to take part in the Civilian Football League, which was organised for the first time that season. Instead, the Saints opted to play challenge matches against the best Service teams on the island.
On April 26, 1909, St George's beat HMS Duncan 4-0 on their home ground outside Żabbar Gate.
The sailors could not fathom such a big defeat. They complained that the ground was bumpy and unfit for football. They demanded a re-match on their own ground in Corradino and insisted that the game would be played for a silver cup.
It is not my intention today to dwell too long on this game.
I have written before on that marvellous episode in the history of the club from Cospicua. It is enough to say that the Saints beat HMS Duncan with a goal scored by Ġuże Tagliaferro to make their own the famous HMS Duncan trophy.
Meanwhile, Floriana were not idle.
They kept themselves busy playing prestigious friendly matches against Service teams.
They also beat the challenge of Sliema Wanderers and St Joseph's United to win the first-ever league championship.
On January 25, 1910 they played against the Kings Royal Rifles at Pembroke. This game ended in a 0-0 draw. The regiment seemed to be quite satisfied with this result and were reluctant to play a replay. Floriana, however, insisted and the game was played on March 27, 1910, again at Pembroke.
This match proved to be a real thriller. It was a fast game full of direct football with the ball passing from one penalty area to the other in quick succession to the delight of the large crowd present.
The star of the match was Ruġġieru Friggieri. Iż-Żibġa played one of the best games in a long and illustrious career but even his efforts were not enough to break the deadlock.
The game ended in another draw, this time by a 2-2 score. The match, despite Floriana's insistence, was not replayed again.
The 1909-10 season ended with Floriana being crowned as the first league champions and they were the holders of the Daily Malta Chronicle Cup.
St George's, on their part, could boast of having beaten the Navy League leaders and they had a handsome silver cup to prove it. Both teams were happy with their achievements but the Maltese public were disappointed because the two rivals refused to meet each other.
The public had to wait another two years before they could see an encounter between the two old rivals.
The next season, the Civilian Football League was not held but in 1911-12 the Saints finally accepted the invitation to join the league thus ensuring the oldest rivalry in Maltese football would continue.
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