The mid-1930s were characterised by an influx of foreign players to Malta. Nowadays, there are many foreign players in Maltese football. We live in a time when local clubs would find it hard to hold their own in the league without their full quota of foreign players.
Before the war, however, the idea of a Maltese club signing a foreign player was unheard of. This was true not only in Malta but in most other European countries with the exception, perhaps, of Italy and Spain, which have a long tradition of foreign players in their leagues.
What were the reasons that prompted foreign players to seek pastures new in Malta? It all started when Adolf Hitler and his henchmen took control of Germany. When the Nazis began to persecute the Jews, many players of Semitic origins fled the country in an attempt to reach America or South Africa.
Finding themselves in need of money for their journey, some of them stopped in Malta to play as professionals with local clubs until they saved enough cash to continue their trip.
It must be said, however, that not all the players who descended on Malta in the thirties were of Jewish origin but the majority of those who came from Central Europe were of Jewish stock.
Floriana opened the gates when, in 1935, they lured to Malta the famous Austrian centre-half, Leo Drucker. The Greens later signed Gruber and Mayerhoffer.
Sliema Wanderers responded by hiring the services of Hans Kaburek, Frans Freiberger, Ernest Lowinger, Frimmel and Ivica Gayer. Hibernians captured Alexander Svoboda and the brothers Hans and Josef Muster. St George's had Pushman and Frisch while Valletta City had the Austrian centre-half Waleda.
All these players were big names in European football but their stay in Malta was short. As soon as they made enough money, they left the country in search of greener pastures.
Buoyed by the experience of having top-class foreign players in their ranks, the Maltese clubs were not prepared to let it go so easily. Therefore, they tried to replace their departed stalwarts with others from Britain.
Hibernians signed Bobby Walker, a young Scottish goalkeeper, in 1935. Walker had kept goal for Falkirk in the Scottish Second Division. Floriana strengthened their team with the signing of Englishman George Bond, of Millwall FC, while St George's acquired a sound and safe goalkeeper from Scotland. Taggart could also play at centre-forward.
In the opinion of many old-timers, the best British player to come to Malta during that period was Steve Vickers.
Floriana did not need to search far for this fine player because Vickers was already stationed in Malta with the Army. Vickers was a classic centre-half of the old school. He was an instant hit at Floriana where his elegant movement and formidable defending were key to Floriana's success in winning the Championship and Cassar Cup in 1936-37.
Vickers was an inspiration to the team and was immediately made captain. His signing, however, caused a serious rift between Floriana, the MFA and the Army authorities.
The Services were not too pleased when they learned that Floriana had given Vickers the money to buy himself out of the Army. With war looming, the Services were irked by Floriana's move.
For the future, they took measures to make it more difficult for British Service players to buy themselves out of the services and play for civilian clubs.
Vickers stayed only two seasons in Malta but during his short spell on the island, he became a great favourite with the Greens' supporters.
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