After the war, football in Malta blossomed. Having been deprived of their favourite game for many years, the Maltese just could not get enough of it. There were many talented youngsters in the game whose future looked quite rosy.
With the services rundowns, however, there was a shortage of jobs in Malta and many sought a new life in Australia or Canada.
Because of this migration, Maltese football lost some of its brightest stars.
Tony and Lolly Vella, of Floriana, Gejtu Sacco, of Sliema Wanderers, Oscar Bartolo, of St George’s, and Freddie Andolina, of Ħamrun Spartans, are but a few names that spring readily to my mind. Another very promising youngster who moved overseas was Freddie Abela (Steak) of Marsa FC.
Abela was without doubt one of the best ever players produced by the Marsa club. A strong and daring centre-forward, he was the tormentor of the other First Division teams’ defences.
An excellent header of the ball, Abela was so quick off the mark that sometimes he was also called Ir-Rixa.
Born in Marsa on May 11, 1937, Abela had only one ambition in life, to play for his hometown club.
Marsa soon realised that Abela had great potential but somehow, they fended off the interest of other clubs in their talented centre-forward.
It was therefore a great shock when, in June 1960, they learned that Abela was migrating to Australia to play for George Cross in Melbourne. The news that Abela was about to leave the islands led the top clubs to renew their efforts to sign him.
At the last minute, Sliema Wanderers made an attractive bid for Abela. They offered Maurice Walsh and Victor Scerri to Marsa in exchange for Abela. Walsh however, refused to leave Sliema and Scerri fancied a move to Floriana if the two clubs reached an agreement.
In the meantime, Ħamrun Spartans also tried hard to capture Abela. Negotiations stalled, however, and the next Monday, Abela was on board the ship and on his way ‘down under’.
In Australia, Abela played regularly for George Cross FC right up to his retirement from the game. As Marsa were not one of the leading clubs here, Abela was denied the chance to win a major honour and represent his country.
It was evident that Abela had the talent to make the grade with any other senior club on the island. The fact that he left the country also dashed his chances of playing alongside top Maltese players.
Abela underlined his credentials before he left. He was invited to play as a guest for Floriana against touring side Messina.
This turned out to be a thrilling game marked by a series of fine saves from Floriana’s reserve goalkeeper Borg and some speedy incursions by Abela who scored in a 3-1 defeat for the Greens.
In the 25th minute, Lolly Debattista took a free-kick, Messina goalkeeper Zappetti punched clear but the ball fell to Demanuele. Zappetti tipped the ball away for the second time but Abela was on hand to head home with a mighty leap typical of this powerful centre-forward.