Updated 5.30pm with Spiteri Gonzi's comment

Almost 35 years after being thrashed 12-1 by Spain, members of that Malta national football team have alleged that they were drugged at half-time. 

"It was like we were drunk. Like going out to Paceville and then getting a good sleep," former player Silvio Demanuele told a Spanish TV show. 

The effect, former national coach Victor Scerri believes, was caused by a suspicious half-time refreshment. 

"A small man came in dressed in white with a big tray with half-lemons," Mr Scierri, now 89, told Spanish TV show, Fiebre Maldini of Movistar+. "And all the players started [sucking on] the lemons." 

"I said to the doctor," Mr Scerri recalled, "'Could they have been drugged?' Because they lost their minds in the second half."

A small man came in dressed in white with a big tray with half-lemons

He knows he will likely go to the grave none the wiser.  "We have no proof, and I don't expect Spain would do that... but if that happens, football is completely finished." 

It is the first time the allegation has been made in public, and adds to the mythology around 90 minutes of football that have since become perhaps the most infamous in Maltese football history. 

Spain went into the match needing to win by at least 11 goals to pip the Netherlands to top spot in the qualifying group to reach the 1984 European Championships.

The game came at the worst possible time for Malta's players, just days after a 5-0 drubbing to Marco van Basten's Holland side.

And as the Maltese players tell it, the Spanish Football Association tried every trick in the book to distract their opponents: from putting them in a hotel with no restaurant, to ensuring there was no electricity at their training ground. 

In a comment posted on Times of Malta, former Malta striker Ernest Spiteri Gonzi fuelled the conspiracy theory. He accused Spain of being "cheats" and that the Malta Football Association had ignored the underhand tactics. 

Despite all that, Malta made a decent fist of proceedings in the first half and entered the dressing room at half-time 3-1 down. 

But everything fell apart in the second half, when Spain netted nine times without reply to win by 11 goals, handing Malta its biggest-ever loss and pipping the Dutch to top of the group on goal difference. 

"We were feeling very tired, we were really exhausted," former player Emanuel Fabri told the TV show about that second half.  

Former Spanish left-back Jose Antonio Camacho was on the pitch that day, and for him, Maltese players' talk of tainted lemons was simply a case of sour grapes. 

"It sounds completely crazy," Mr Camacho told the TV show. "If a man dressed in white enters [the dressing room] and says 'eat these lemons', you don't - you just send him away!" he exclaimed. 

This is not the first time allegations of impropriety concerning the match have been bandied about.

A Dutch commentator suggested Spain's players had taken stimulants, and many segments of the Dutch press were convinced that Maltese players had been bribed.

When a Dutch journalist travelled to Malta in 2003 to ask players about alleged kickbacks, Malta's goalkeeper during that game, John Bonello, denied being on the take and instead pointed a finger at Spain. After the final whistle, he claimed, Spanish officials were spotted drinking champagne and handing out golden watches in the referee’s dressing room.

All three parts of the interview are attached below. 

"Pure amateurs"

 

Doping accusations at half-time

 

Saddest day in Malta's football history

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