A black cloud settled over Paola yesterday.

'King' Eddie Theobald one of the greatest Maltese footballers of all time passed away leaving a void which will be very hard to fill in the hearts of the loyal Hibs supporters.

Theobald was born in Paola on September 28, 1940. One of the all-time greats of Maltese football he was one of the most noted footballers of the Sixties and Seventies.

Theobald comes from a great football family, which included his father, Turu and his brothers Louis and Ronnie. As a midfield player he had no equal. His skills, accurate passes and intelligent play made him an automatic choice both for his club Hibernians and the national team with whom he was capped 17 times.

He joined Hibs' minors team in March 1956 and made his league debut in season 1958-59 against Floriana. Hibs won 2-0 and from then on, he never lost his place in the team, helping the club win its first three championships. He was voted Footballer of the Year twice in seasons 1966-67 and 1970-71.

Theobald soon became the 'darling' of the Hibs' crowd. His frail frame, his elegant style, and the way he fluttered his way through opposing defences earned him the nickname of 'l-Għasfur' (the bird).

His intelligent midfield play made him unique in the annals of Maltese football and his dribbling rivalled that of his father Turu. His contemporaries considered the elder Theobald as the greatest dribbler in the history of the Maltese game.

Theobald played nearly 200 league games for Hibernians. He hardly every lost a match through injury. He was rarely substituted and he was never suspended. These facts say a lot about the skills and character of this great footballer.

Veteran of many great encounters against foreign teams both for Hibs and for Malta, his contribution to the game cannot be measured. His greatest moment however, came in season 1962-63. That winter the weather made havoc of British soccer. Around Christmas, the British Isles were frozen over with ice and snow. Week after week, the football programme was postponed. At one time the situation was so bad that the leading clubs were forced to take their teams abroad for training camps.

Towards the end of January 1963, Chelsea FC who, at the time were running away with the English Division Two championship, paid a short visit to the island. The Blues played two matches in Malta. In midweek they played against Hibernians and on Sunday they beat an MFA XI 4-1.

The match against Hibernians was a different proposition. The Pensioners were clearly the better side but they were well held by the Paolites. In addition their winning goal should never have been allowed. Jimmy Mulholland had clearly handled the ball before scoring but referee Paul Bonnet did not see the infringement.

This match could be described as 'Eddie Theobald's match'. Hibs' magician weaved, feinted, and danced his way through the Chelsea defence as if his very life depended on it.

One of the real all-time greats of Maltese football, he always seemed to reserve his best for the big occasion. This, however, was his best game in a long and glorious career.

He was so good that day that after the game Chelsea's manager Tommy Docherty offered him a contract there and then. Eddie went to London that summer to train with the Pensioners but his father Turu kept urging him to return home. Chelsea's loss turned out to be Hibs' gain as Eddie led the club through one of the greatest eras in its history.

In 1973-74 Hibs narrowly lost the championship to Valletta. The Paola club's committee decided to take drastic action.

In a bold bid to build a new team for the future they decided to scrap the old team and to introduce instead their minor team en-bloc into the First Division. It was a move, which was to pay rich dividends for the future. However, no one expected Eddie Theobald to be transferred.

In a controversial deal, he was transferred to Żebbuġ Rangers for 200 pounds.

Theobald remained with the Rangers for three seasons. Much of his old magic was still there to the delight of the Żebbuġ fans and to the dismay of the Hibs' supporters.

The Żebbuġ Rangers team however was not of the same standard as Hibernians. In 1977 they were relegated and rather than playing in the Second Division, Theobald retired.

Thus was closed the chapter of one of the greatest players ever produced by Maltese football.

For a time he took up coaching but after a while he retired from all competitive football. His love of the game however, never wavered and until he retired from service in the year 2000 he was a physical education instructor with the Department of Education.

Honours won

Footballer of the Year: 1967; 1971.

Championship: 1960-61; 1966-67; 1968-69.

Cup: 1961-62; 1969-70; 1970-71.

Cassar Cup: 1961-62; 1962-63.

Olympic Cup: 1969-70.

Sons of Malta Cup: 1969-70.

Independence Cup: 1967-68; 1970-71.

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