The 1952 FA Trophy started on a quiet note with Hibernians and Valletta cruising to easy wins over St Patrick’s (6-0) and Rabat (2-0) respectively. The competition then had one of the most dramatic endings in its history.
Hibs and Valletta met in the semi-finals on May 3. A well-taken goal by outside-right Psaila six minutes from the end sent Hibs into the final. Psaila’s goal capped a polished second-half performance by Hibs after the first half had ended in a 1-1 draw.
Valletta intensified their efforts to save the match in the dying stages but goalkeeper Montebello was rarely troubled.
On May 18, St George’s produced the surprise of the season when they defeated Ħamrun Spartans 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
The Saints confounded the critics, turning in their best performance in many a year.
That season, Sliema Wanderers played second fiddle to rivals Floriana. Having won the league title and the Cassar Cup, the Greens were favourites to add the FA Trophy to their collection.
There was, therefore, an air of scepticism in the Sliema camp when the teams met in the quarter-finals on May 18.
The match produced a dramatic start when Ninu Calleja fired Sliema in front after only nine minutes. It was a soft goal but it was enough for Sliema to knock Floriana out of the competition.
Sliema eventually reached the final after a 5-2 victory over St George’s. The Wanderers were far too good for the Saints and their winning margin would have been more pronounced but for some poor finishing.
The Saints’ defence was as leaky as an old bucket with Tony Nicholl and company running riot.
It was, therefore, a Hibs-Sliema final. A good match was expected but no-one could have predicted the drama and tragedy that lay in store.
The final, played on May 25, was a rip-roaring affair, full of dramatic twists. It ended in a 3-3 draw after extra-time. A doubtful goal against Hibs, a non-existent penalty against Sliema, and a clear-cut penalty against the Blues in extra-time all contributed to a different scenario to that which would have taken the trophy to Paola.
Add to this some poor refereeing, dangerous play and frayed tempers and the final had everything one could wish for.
The replay was played the following weekend on a hot afternoon. The two teams ran themselves to a standstill without achieving any tangible rewards.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw and had to be replayed again.
Sunday, June 8 was an exciting afternoon for Maltese football.
After 330 minutes of hard, gruelling football, Sliema finally clinched the FA Trophy.
Once again, Hibernians had to be content with being runners-up.
Camilleri, known as Il-Lebre, scored Sliema’s winner 15 minutes into second half. It was a scrambled goal but enough to hand the trophy to the Wanderers that season.
This was not the end of the drama, however.
As some Hibs fans were heading back to Paola on an amphibious truck along Pietá Wharf, sparks from some Bengal lights fell into a box containing petards, causing a terrific explosion which killed two supporters.
That tragedy is another story which I have already narrated in this series.