A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a close friend of mine and colleague in my teaching days at Umberto Colosso School.
As far as I know, Manuel Vella did not play football but he had a strong link to the game because both his grandfather and grand-uncle were famous footballers back in the good old days before the First World War.
My friend’s grandfather, Manwel Vella (Il-Bażokk) was born in Floriana in 1886.
Together with his brother Ġużeppi, Vella spent his free time kicking everything in sight around the ditches of Floriana. And among his cronies at the time were Ruġġieru Friggieri and Salvu Tabone, two other great Floriana FC stars of that era.
At the tender age of 18, Vella joined the famous amateurs Colonials FC. His classic wing-half play soon caught the eye of his seniors and when, in 1908, Floriana were preparing their team for the classic Imtarfa Cup match against St George’s, he was picked to play at right-half alongside his schoolboy friends Friggieri and Tabone.
This was the start of a great era in the long history of Floriana FC. Between 1909 and 1913, the Irish won three championship and two cup-tie competitions. Vella was ever-present in the team during that period.
When the Floriana team broke up in 1914, Vella joined Ħamrun Spartans for one season and then went on for another term with St George’s.
The records for the next few seasons are very sketchy and, unfortunately, we lose track of this great player but he probably continued playing soccer for St George’s or Valletta United.
During the First World War, Vella joined the KOMRM, forming part of the team that kept the Maltese flag flying high in the United Service League against the mighty service teams of the era.
After the war he re-joined Floriana, winning yet another championship but in 1921 he joined the Police Force and was impeded from playing civilian football.
In season 1921-22, the Police formed their own team and Vella, although now well in his 30s, dusted his boots and played for one more year before finally giving up the game forever.
Quiet and unassuming he gave honest service to every team he played for. His great contribution to the game, however, was not always recognised, especially by the Malta FA who never picked him to play for the National XI.
He died in 1939 at the age of 53.
Ġużeppi Vella was another of the great pioneers of our game.
His career, however, was cut short because of his sudden death when still at the prime of life.
In January 1910, Floriana challenged the King’s Royal Rifles for a silver cup. The Rifles at the time were fighting tooth and nail against the Argyll Regiment for the Army League championship. The soldiers had a formidable team and were certainly worthy opponents of Floriana.
Missing from the team was Ġużeppi Vella.
One of the most promising young Maltese players of his era, he was an automatic choice in any Floriana team. However, at the time the Greens were to meet the Kings Royal Rifles, he was in hospital suffering from bronchitis which he had in-curred while playing football.
A few days after the match against the Rifles, on February 13, 1910, Ġużeppi still visibly weak from the ordeal of his illness, was included in the Floriana team that played against the Suffolk Regiment at St Andrew’s.
Vella played his heart out in that game. It seemed that he sensed that this was to be his last contribution to the team.
He helped his beloved Floriana to win the match 2-0 but shortly after the game he had a relapse. Vella was rushed to hospital but his heart gave way and died soon afterwards at the tender age of 22.
I wish to dedicate this article to the memory of my friend Manuel Vella who, if he was still with us, would surely have enjoyed reading it.
I know, because he was very proud of his grandfather in particular.
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