Our Home is Water Since 1925
1910 – THE EARLY YEARS
Like many sports practised the world over, water polo originated in England around 1880. The sport became very popular and spread to all corners of the Earth. It was no small wonder that water polo saw its inception in Malta through the various servicemen stationed on the Island during the country’s occupancy by Great Britain.
Water Polo competitions between the Services were played either in the quiet waters of Marsamxett or at Ghar id-Dud, below the Sliema Point Battery better known as “Il-Fortizza”.
Early engraving presenting “Water Polo at Malta” within
“The illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of October 8, 1881”
Early in 1910, water polo was also taken up by the Maltese and was eventually developed to such an extent that Malta participated in the Olympic Games of 1928 in Amsterdam and in Berlin in 1936. After World War II, the ASA started organising international water polo competitions with nations hailing from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia and Brazil.
THE FIRST LOCAL WATER POLO CLUBS: SLIEMA AND VALLETTA
The start of water polo at club level was very slow initially and consisted mostly of a close study of the game as played by the Services. By time clubs from Valletta and Sliema emerged and friendly matches were organised against the Service teams on the Island.
The pioneer team of Sliema United Athletic Club, Malta in 1912.
The players: De Martino, Farrugia, C.Busietta, E.Busietta, V.Baroni Trigona, A.Rizzo and Caruana
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta; 1910-1988 by Arthur J.Leaver
The team of Valletta Dolphins winner of the 1927 Malta Sports Association League.
Along with Valleta Dolphins competed the teams of: Sliema United, Valletta United and the team of HMS Huntley.
The team of Valletta Dolphins: Grech, Pace, Pisani, Buhagiar, Fabri, Vassalo, Naudi.
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta; 1910-1988 by Arthur J.Leaver
The public started to take some form of interest in this new sport and it must be remembered that in 1910 there were no proper pitches and absolutely no stands from which the public could watch the matches. In fact, the spectators crowded the surrounding walls and rocks to gain vantage spots to get the best view possible.
One of the earliest and very rare mentions of water polo in the local press dates back to 17 August 1910. The article covered a match between two Royal Engineers sides, namely Sliema Detachment Royal Engineers and Gnats Sliema Royal Engineers. There was a significant reference to two players, namely a Maltese Gee Gee Calleja and an Englishman Major B Cordwell. The latter was more important as, in time, the Major became a resident in Malta and became, not only a member, but the Chairman of the original Malta Amateur Swimming Association.
On 12 July 1912 Sliema Wanderers travelled to St George’s Bay and in this, their maiden match, beat “C” Company Gloucester Regiment 3 – 2. Valletta, impressed by Sliema’s win, through their secretary Paul Dowling, issued a challenge to Sliema which was accepted. The match was played on 13 August 1912 and was won by Sliema 2 – 1. Later on in the year, Valletta got the better of Sliema winning a match 1-0.
Meanwhile, another team came to life when a team of Maltese Gunners, the Royal Malta Artillery, came to the fore. On 18 September 1912, a match between Sliema United, now calling themselves Civilian Champions and the RMA was played at Sliema Point Battery. Sliema won the match by 3 clear goals scored by C Busietta and A Rizzo.
These two players, known as Meme and Turu, respectively, were to become two pillars of the summer sports, namely, water polo and swimming. Through Meme Busietta’s perseverance, it was possible to form the Amateur Swimming Association thirteen years later. Turu Rizzo, on the other hand, was to become a household name when, after several long-distance swims and endurance records, in 1929 he impressed all by his brilliant endeavour to swim from Pozzallo Sicily to the Valletta Grand Harbour. Unfortunately, having swam fifty-eight out of the sixty miles distance, Turu Rizzo had to be lifted out of the water within sight of Malta, due to utter exhaustion.
In 1913 a water polo association was formed under the presidency of Mr E Bonavia and Valletta won the championship honours beating Sliema 1-0. World War I put a stop to all activities up to 1919.
Throughout 1920-1921, Valletta and Sliema remained the chief protagonists with Sliema claiming to be Malta Water Polo Champions and Valletta calling themselves the Unconquered Water Polo Team.
In 1922 the only bright light was the emergence of a new club, St Julians Central Aquatic Sports Club, which as situated in the back waters of Spinola Bay. This club did not only involve water polo but specialised in organising swimming galas as well as races involving “fregatini”, boats, gigs and speedboats. The development of water polo in Malta owes much to the initiative of this club to promote swimming galas which ensured a steady availability of swimmers who could then opt to become water polo players.
1923 was another bleak year but 1924 saw the appearance of a new club called The Malta Eastern Club which came into being thanks to the hard work of the Busietta brothers.
1925 – FOUNDING OF THE ASA
1925 proved to be one of the cornerstones in the history of water polo in Malta when, through the initiative of C Busietta of the MEC, it was decided to organise a league competition open to both Service and Civilian clubs. Six teams, namely, R.E.’s, the R.A.’s, Sliema W, Sliema U, Valletta Dolphins and Wembley Rangers, competed with Sliema claiming the honours. An exhibition match between Sliema U and the Rest of the League was organised on 15 September 1925. The Sliema U’s players were Benjacar, V Busietta, E Busietta, C Busietta, M Magri, A Calleja and L Darmanin.
Following this encouraging start to competitive water polo, the Amateur Swimming Association of Malta was inaugurated as a result of an accumulated desire to see Malta’s water polo team competing at the Olympics. Specifically, Lord Plumer, the Governor of Malta in the early 1920s, had planted the seed of ambition for the local team, with his sights set on the Paris Olympic Games of 1924. Although his plans were derailed when his term expired, the competitive intention for the team never lost momentum. At a meeting held at Circolo Sliema on 25 November 1925, the Association was created to bring this vision to fruition.
The first ASA Committee was composed of the following gentlemen:-
President The Hon E Bonavia
Vice President Col A Savona
Treasurer F Agius
Secretary Major H Dunbar Vella
Assistant Secretary C Camilleri
Members P Giorgio, C Busietta and PP DeCesare
During the meeting, General Sir Walter Norris Congreve, the Governor of the day, was appointed Patron and affiliation to the English ASA was initiated. The required literature for the 1928 Olympic Games was also obtained.
1926 is known as the “Administrative Year of Water Polo” as every effort was made to place the Association on a solid footing through the enforcement of proper control of water polo matches, the drawing up of the rules and regulations, proposals to organise league and cup competitions for both seniors and juniors, the recruitment of referees and confirming Malta’s affiliation to the ASA of Great Britain.
Valletta Dolphins, HMS Huntley, Sliema United and Valletta U were the teams which competed in the first ever water polo competition organised by a properly constituted body. The first competition was won by Valletta.
In 1927 no water polo competitions were organised due to lack of teams and interest switched to open water swimming when Turu Rizzo of Sliema dazzled everyone with his record-breaking swimming feats. He was the first swimmer to cross the Gozo-Malta channel, and also swam the whole distance between Gozo and Valletta.
Despite the fact that no water polo competitions were organised, the Association used the lull in activity to seek affiliation with FINA with a view to participate in the 1928 Olympic Games.
1928 – MALTA OLYMPIC COMMITTEE FORMED
1928 proved to be a significant year in the annals of the history of Maltese water polo as it was decided to send a national team to participate in the Amsterdam Olympic Games. This was a bold and courageous decision as no Maltese team had ever ventured abroad to participate in any competition, let alone, that of such a high standard.
This was no easy task as the Association encountered many bureaucratic obstacles at international level. The first obstacle occurred when the Dutch General Secretary of the Olympics queried Malta’s application which was submitted after the deadline. Once this obstacle was resolved, the Dutch Olympic Committee furnished the authorities with another stumbling block that since Malta was a colony, it could not participate. The ASA took up the matter with FINA who, after seeking legal advice, decided that since Malta was not a Crown Colony its status was equal to that of a Dominion. Following this decision, Malta received an official invitation to set up a special committee of all sports. No time was lost and the ASA appointed an ad hoc Malta Olympic Committee with offices in Old Mint Street in Valletta with one of their main functions being to raise funds. The Dutch Olympic Committee cabled Malta’s definite participation in the Olympic Games three days before the deadline, on 22 June 1928.
The Malta Olympic contingent consisting of a Chef de Mission, Officials and a team of ten water polo players left Malta on 26 July 1928. The Chef de Mission was Paul Giorgio.
The Malta team that participated in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam
Back row (L to R) A Rizzo, M Boissevain (attache), Capt H Sammut, VJ Pace, F Cassar Torregiani, R Fiorini
Middle Row (L to R) L Darmanin, J Nappa, FV Busietta
Front Row (L to R) E Busietta (masseur), H Bonavia, CL Busietta, E Magri and R Vella
Malta played three matches at group stage against Luxembourg, France and the USA. In its debut on the international scene, before a crowded stadium, Malta, playing in the unfamiliar conditions of an open-air fresh water swimming pool, kicked off with a 3-1 win against Luxembourg. Malta’s scorers were H Bonavia, E Magri and R Vella. J Nappa in goal was instrumental in defying all Luxembourg’s attempts.
Unfortunately, Malta lost their other two matches against the very strong teams of France and the USA with the score of 16-0 and 10-0 respectively. Against France Malta played without the services of H Bonavia and E Magri who were both sick, and against the USA Malta had to contend with a very fast team which included the world champion swimmer Johnny Weismuller.
In 1929, interest in water polo increased and this was reflected in the spread of the game when, besides the pathfinders Valletta and Sliema, other teams sprung up from St Julian’s, Balluta, Vittoriosa and Senglea. The teams were split into two groups, namely, Sliema, St Julians and Senglea forming the First Division, and Sliema, Neptunes (from Balluta) and Vittoriosa featuring in the Second Division. Both leagues were won by Sliema.
Black and White postcard with view of the Fleet Water Polo Final Match between
HMS Huntley and HMS London at Malta on 27 August 1929.
Source: Private collection
During this year one must commend the St Julians Central Aquatics Sports Club for organising not only water polo, but swimming galas, sailing, rowing and outboard speedboat racing. The swimming galas attracted swimmers from all parts of Malta.
1929 also saw the introduction of an Inter-Schools Water Polo League sponsored by the Malta Chronicle. The first edition was won by the Lyceum Secondary School. Through this competition, players like Victor Demarco and Jimmy Chetcuti (who later joined Neptunes) and Freddie Falzon (who later joined Sliema United) were discovered.
During 1930 the ASA were criticised for the lack of activity which can be traced to the economic crisis which shook the world after World War I. Nevertheless, some Maltese clubs and other bodies like the Malta Sports Association, the St Julian’s Aquatic Sports Club and Valletta St Dominic’s held various aquatic competitions which all involved teams from the Three Services.
In 1931, the ASA once again did not organise any official water polo competitions. However, following continued criticism, they organised the first ever ASA Swimming Championships with the ultimate aim of preparing Maltese swimmers for participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These Championships held under the distinguished patronage of HE H C Luke, Officer Administering the Government and Mrs Luke, on 13 September at the Haywharf Marsamxett Harbour proved to be a success and the large crowd of spectators were not disappointed. Charlie Parlato Trigona, both a water polo player and a fine swimmer, carried off the titles of the 500 yard and 1000-yard-long distance races.
Despite the fact that no official water polo competitions were organised by the ASA, non-league clubs who preferred to remain out of the lime-light played friendly matches against the Services teams of the Royal Engineers, the Royal Signals, the Medical Corps at Bighi Hospital and various units of the Destroyer Flotilla which was generally berthed in the Sliema harbour. One such club was the Pieta Club.
1932 was full of activity in all swimming and water polo circles. Hamrun made their debut in water polo in a friendly match against the Royal Engineers, winning the encounter 2-1. In their first league fixture they were only narrowly beaten 1-0 by the more experienced Senglea side, this was followed by a 1-1 draw against the league champions Sliema.
The 2nd ASA Swimming Championships were once again organised at Haywharf on 11 September and the large crowd present were regaled with some fine swimming from Charlie Parlato, Kanesi Demicoli, Charlie Noon, Sydney Scott and Anton Buttigieg. The latter, from Senglea caused a sensation when he captured both the 500- and 1000-yard events.
Besides the ASA, the Malta Sports Association, better known as MSA, organised sports for their members hailing from the Varsity, Civil Service, Dockyards, Teachers, the Malta Eastern Club (Telegraph) and the Banks.
A healthy growth in water polo was through the Maltese regimental teams who figured in the Command League competitions when, besides the dominant Royal Malta Artillery, the “terriers” or the King’s Own Malta Regiment, composed of volunteers serving in the territorial army, emerged. The strength of this territorial regiment may be gauged when, at the end of the Command League, the K.O.M.R. obtained a total of 30 out of a possible 32 points.
Valletta and Neptunes, chose to boycott the league organised by the ASA preferring to meet a Service side against whom they invariably piled off large scores.
1933 recorded the passing away of Lord Plumer, former Governor of Malta. It was through his drive and perseverance that Malta was able to take the necessary steps to participate in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games.
Viscount Herbert Plumer
In this year, Turu Rizzo once again attempted to swim the 60-mile stretch separating Malta from Sicily. This event attracted massive national interest with crafts of all kinds going out to sea to meet him. Unfortunately, once again, the swimmer started drifting away from the Maltese shores when he had covered 55 miles and had to be taken out of the water completely exhausted.
In 1933 the water polo competitions organised by the ASA went on without a hitch with the participation of six teams, namely Sliema, Neptunes, St Julian’s A and B, the RM Signals and Sliema Rovers. The 1st Division was won by Neptunes who beat Sliema 2-0 in front of a record crowd who gathered at St Julian’s Pitch. Neptunes’ team was composed of Demarco, Wismayer, Chetcuti, Lanzon, Albanese, A Podesta and W Podesta. Sliema lined up with Frendo Azzopardi, V Busietta, C Parlato Trigona, W Busietta, Debono, Scott and Magri.
Neptunes, Champions of Malta in 1933. In the 30’s Neptunes won the Championships on the four occasions they took part – In 1933, 1934, 1937 and 1938.
Back Row L-R: John Chetcuti, P Mercieca
Middle Row L-R: F Wismayer, Jim Chetcuti, Alfred Lanzon, A Podesta
Front Row L-R: A Degiorgio, J Demarco, Is-Sur Fred, W Podesta, J Albanese
Source: 50 Years Neptunes WPC 1929 – 1979
1934 – THE FIRST PARTICIPATION ABROAD
1934 was another memorable year as, for the first time, a local club, St Julian’s C.A.S.C., led by J Attard Manche, together with a party of swimmers trained by architect Lewis Agius travelled abroad to compete against the Sirene Tritons from Tunisia. Prior to their departure the local side trained in the fresh water reservoir at Ghajn il-Kbir in Siggiewi. In their first match against the strong Sirens Tritons side, St Julian’s lost by 9 goals to 2. In their second match, St Julian’s met the Jewish team of Maccabbi and lost by 8 goals to 1. This trip proved to be an eye-opener as it introduced the Maltese water polo players to superior styles of play still unknown in Malta.
In September of that year, the Sirene Tritons came over to Malta to play a series of matches against the local sides, which matches were all played at the Central Aquatic Sports Club in St Julian’s.
As expected, this first visit to Malta by a foreign side captured the attention of the water polo lovers who thronged to the St Julian’s Pitch. In their first match against K.O.M.R., Sirene Tritons showed their superiority by winning the match 10-1. The foreigners’ line up was:- Boccars, Cioffi, Tedeschi, Schembri, Astcheminkoff, Curcurru and Lecauf.
In their second match of the tour, the foreigners met Sliema United who provided stronger opposition. The latter created a sensation when Sydney Scott scored early in the game. The Tunisians got the draw through Atcheminkoff. Unfortunately, the match took a dramatic turn and the Tunisians decided to abandon the match with the score 1-1
First International games in Malta between Sliema (MLT) and Sirene Triton (TUN).
Sliema L-R: Frendo Azzopardi, Bonnici, Sydney Scott, Debono, Pace, Magri.
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta 1910-1988 by Arthur J Leaver
In their concluding match against Neptunes, the Tunisians once again faced strong opposition with Neptunes going ahead through a goal by Babsi Podesta. Sirene Tritons equalised through Curcuru. Albanese put Neptunes ahead once more but unfortunately, the local side showed signs of tiredness and the Tunisians won the match 4-2.
First International games in Malta between Neptunes (MLT) and Sirene Triton (TUN)
Neptunes: L to R Lanzon, W Podesta, Albanese, Chetcuti, Wismayer, B Podesta and Demarco
1934 also saw the introduction of an Under 18 league besides the 1st and 2nd Division competitions. St. Julian’s, Neptunes, Gzira and Sliema contested this junior competition with Sliema being declared the winners. Their team was made up of: Rizzo, Castillo, Agius, Psaila, Ganado, Pace and Borg.
Neptunes won the 1st Division facing opposition from Sliema, St Julian’s and Senglea, whilst St Julian’s carried off the title of the 2nd Division overcoming Neptunes, Sliema, St. Julian’s, Senglea and two new teams from Gzira, namely Prince of Wales and Lions. The season was wrapped up with the Knock Out Final between Sliema and Neptunes which ended in a 1-1 draw forcing a replay. This was won by Neptunes with the score of 3-1.
In 1935 the ASA water polo league was organised for Sliema, Senglea and St Julian’s as Neptunes withdrew from all competitions. Sliema managed a clean sweep of all honours. In this year the Malta Sports Association (MSA) also organised a water polo competition. The final between Banks A.P. and the Civil Service was won by the former who had the following players in their line-up:- Milanes, Busietta, Bonnici, Briffa, Pace, Marich and Castillo.
1936 - THE YEAR OF THE BERLIN OLYMPIC GAMES
There was great interest as Malta would be sending a contingent formed not only of swimmers but also athletes. The Malta Olympic Committee was determined to ensure that the Malta water polo team would be well prepared and appointed Pippo Schembri, a Maltese-Tunisian who had played in Malta with Sirene Tritons, and also had international experience as a swimmer, as player-coach in the Malta Olympic team. Pippo Schembri arrived in Malta well before the Olympics and through hard training set the pace for the athletes to reach Olympic standards. Such was the interest of the Maltese that large crowds gathered to watch the training sessions and friendly matches held at St Julian’s, Neptunes and Sliema pitches. The Malta team, also had the opportunity to conduct many training sessions in the fresh water reservoir in Wied il-Kbir.
The National Team at the Berlin Olympic Games 1936:
Joseph Chetcuti Bonacia, Joseph Demicoli, Anthony J Lanzon, Arthur Podesta, Wilfred Podesta,
Fortune “Pippo” Schembri, Sidney Scott, Frank Wismayer, Jack Frendo Azzopardi, Charles Parlato Trigona, J Albanese.
Source: 50 Years Neptunes WPC 1929 – 1979
The Malta contingent for the Games was composed of P Giorgio – Chef de Mission, J Attard Manche, G Craig, E Scicluna – Officials, W Cook – Masseur, J Sammut – Doctor, A Cassar Torregiani, A Bencini and P Pace – Athletes and the water polo team – Pippo Schembri (player-coach), Demicoli, Wismayer, Lanzon, Wilfred and Arthur Podesta, Sidney Scott, Charles Parlato Trigona, Frendo Azzopardi and Albanese. Missing from the team was Flask, who was dropped, and Degiorgio, who opted not to form part of the team. The contingent boarded the Egyptian liner Mohammed El Kebir on the 24 July and arrived in Berlin on the 29 July.
Malta’s first match was against Great Britain who were, not only superior but extremely tough. Malta lost the match 2-8 with our goals coming from Babsi Podesta and Sydney Scott. In the second match against the Hungarians, Malta were down 9-0 in the first half and to add insult to injury, lost the services of Babsi Podesta through injury. The final score was 12-0. In their final match against Yugoslavia, Malta lost 7-0.
Whilst in Germany, the Malta Olympic team played friendly matches against Switzerland (3-3), Germany (1-8), Plauren Club (10-3), SV Berg (8-1) and Magdeburg (7-2).
1936 TO 1939 - THE AFTERMATH OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES
The aftermath of the Olympic Games was a storm on the local water polo scene due to the suspension of Flask from the Olympic team due to professionalism. St Julian’s, Senglea and Sliema all refused to participate in the ASA competitions and were subsequently banned from all ASA competitions. Although the ASA reinstated Flask who was allowed to re-join his club St Julian’s, the whole committee received a vote of no confidence making way for a new set-up.
The criticism levied at the ASA in 1936 continued in 1937 and following the mishandling of two other cases involving Dowling and Portelli, the ASA President resigned to be replaced by Paul Giorgio.
1937 proved to be a difficult year for St Julian’s CASC as they couldn’t honour their water polo commitments due to the absence of eight of their leading swimmers. Also, when the club became involved in the double registration of Portelli, they withdrew from all competitions having played 42 matches, winning 40 and drawing 2.
As a consequence of this withdrawal, League Division I was contested by Sliema, Neptunes and Senglea but Sliema also withdrew due to remarks passed against the referee when they beat Neptunes Sharks in League Division II.
This was the year that Sirens, from St Paul’s Bay, were welcomed into the ASA’s fold.
1938 was a year of debacles in terms of protests, withdrawals and suspensions. Having said that, Valletta made a welcome return in Division II as Valletta City Club.
In 1939, after the brief Munich “peace for all time” breather, water polo competitions were held as planned. However, tension seemed to affect the local clubs and Neptunes and Senglea withdrew from all competitions, leaving only Sliema and St Julian’s to compete.
The ASA organised the Swimming Championships at St Julians C.S.S.C. which were followed by record crowds. During the Championships Gunner Demicoli, better known as Kanesi, stole the show winning the 100m free style, 100m backstroke and 400m free style races.
Medal awarded to Emmanuel “Budgy” Dowling of St Julians, aged 14, for
placing 1st in the 100m Backstroke in the Junior Championships
Source: Private collection
1939 - WAR BROKE OUT AND THE RESTART IN 1945
War broke out in September and all local swimming and water polo activities were interrupted until early 1945. As early as July, local clubs Neptunes, St Julian’s and Sliema organised friendly matches and sports galas. Neptunes also introduced water polo matches under floodlights. The RMA and KOMR, Malta Army Units, were also active when, as a combined team, they played a match against a Pick Navy side which was won by the former by 7 goals to 2. The Army goals were scored by B Podesta 3, Demicoli 2 and Dowling 2.
Competitive water polo organised by the ASA commenced late in August with the curtain rising in the first division encounter between Neptunes and Sliema, followed by a large crowd in Msida.
Towards the latter part of 1945 two Maltese units in the Army took part in an Inter Unit Army Water Polo league organised for the British and Commonwealth teams at the Foro Italico in Rome. These were the 1st Coast Regiment RMA, winners of the Malta Command KO and the 1st Battalion KOMR, runners-up in this same competition. The RMA team was led by Major E.A. Camilleri and Capt C Bartolo with BSM Galea, Sgt Demicoli (Kanesi), Budgy Dowling, Gnrs Calleja, Tonna, Fenech and Muscat completing the team.
The 1st Coast Regt R.M.A. – 1945
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
KOMR was led by Capt A Podesta with Capt F Stagno Navarro, Capt J Falzon, Lt G Testaferrata, Sgt Vella, Pte Attard and LC Azzopardi forming the team.
Sixteen teams qualified for this competition which was won by the RMA who beat the team from New Zealand DC by 6 goals to 2 with Budgy Dowling claiming 4 goals and Gunner Muscat scoring the remaining goals.
RMA receiving the honours as Champions in Rome
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
1946 - A STORMY YEAR
1946 proved to be a stormy year after the encouraging start in 1945. The ASA body and several league sides were at loggerheads, with a number of the latter withdrawing from competitions. As a consequence, the competition, which commenced late in the year, was boring whilst the ASA body was engaged in lengthy polemics and changes in its composition. This poor season saw the re-entry of Valletta along with the established clubs of Sliema, Neptunes and St Julians. Sliema won the League Division I honours and Valletta celebrated their re-entry into the scene by organising a short visit to Naples. This year also saw the appearance of a new club Melita Water Polo Club, if only for a short time.
1947 - TURNING A NEW LEAF
1947 turned a new leaf with the ASA organising four competitions – Divisions I, II, III and the Boys’ League. It was clear that in the top division, Sliema and Neptunes would battle for the honours, a fact that was emphasized by their high-scoring feats. The all-important Sliema-Neptunes league encounter proved to be a monumental battle with the former edging their rivals with a score of 2-1. Sydney Scott and Naudi were Sliema’s scorers whilst Babsi Podesta scored for Neptunes. Neptunes reversed the situation by winning the Knock Out with the same score. This year was undoubtedly one of the finest as, for the first time, Sliema accomplished what no other club had ever done, winning all league competitions from the Seniors down to the Boys’ league. The composition of these two teams was the following:-
Sliema: Meli, Xerri, Antoncic, Scott, Frendo, Naudi and Testaferrata
Neptunes: Miggiani, Wismayer, Chetcuti, Platts, A Podesta, W Podesta and Tonna
In 1948, whilst Sliema continued on their march of victories, Neptunes once more raised their complaint against referee Gilbert Agius and refused to honour their match against Valletta. Disciplinary action was taken against Neptunes who then elected a new committee. Gzira abandoned their match in Division III and St Julians walked out of their match against Valletta when the score read 9-1- in favour of the latter. Valletta won the Knock Out competition for the first time when they beat Neptunes 3-0 and then proceeded to Rome and Naples to play some friendly matches. The Valletta side was composed of Rizzo, Antoncic, Axiaq, Dowling, Agius, Testaferrata and Muscat.
Rivalry between the eternal adversaries Sliema and Neptunes continued and a record crowd of some 2,000 fans turned up to watch the match. Both teams had some regular players missing and fielded the following players:-
Sliema: Mifsud, Testaferrata, Pisani, Scott, Frendo, Naudi and Degiorgio
Neptunes: Miggiani, Wismayer, Chetcuti, Platts, Manche, Tonna and Mallia
Sliema won the match with the score of 3 – 1.
In this troublesome season Sliema won the League Divisions I and II, whilst St Julians won the Division II League.
1949 – NEW PREMISES FOR VARIOUS CLUBS
1949 was a year when a number of clubs introduced new premises or carried out improvements of their water polo clubs. Neptunes and St Julians who both suffered damages to their premises through stormy weather in the winter carried out considerable improvements. This year also saw the introduction of Sirens of St Paul’s Bay in Division I competitions who found it hard in their new position and ended their commitments as wooden spoonists. Balluta won the Division II League which promoted them to Division I in 1950.
Neptunes won the Division I honours in a most convincing manner winning all their matches. Sliema were runners-up. Valletta made up for their shortcomings in the league by winning the Knock Out competition which, for the first time, was played under the experimental South American rules. These new FINA rules were introduced on a trial basis and consisted of teams having from 7 to 10 players (3 substitutes), the abolition of static play and actionless periods and the prohibition of personal contact.
Neptunes Division I League winners
Back Row: Franz Wismayer, Louis Demajo Albanese, Jimmy Platts, Babsie Podesta, Alex Mizzi, Wilfred Podesta
Front Row: Bertie Portelli, Lewis Wismayer, Frank Miggiani, Loris Manche.
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
This year also had the added attraction of a visit by Rari Nantes Florentia who were invited by Valletta WPC reciprocating the previous season’s visit of the latter to Naples. Large crowds packed the Valletta Pitch to watch Florentia play a number of matches against a combination of local clubs, Valletta and a pick of Division I team. This was the first visit by a foreign side since the memorable visit by Sirens Tritons of Tunisia in 1934.
THE EARLY FIFTIES
In 1950 the ASA organised competitions for Division I, II and II as well as an Under-18 Boys League in which Sliema, Sirens, Neptunes, Valletta and Balluta competed. The season opened with a sensation when Balluta surprised everyone by beating the more experienced Neptunes 6-2 and then went on to beat Sliema 7-1. The Balluta side was made up of Xuereb, Grixti, Agius, Micallef, Tonna, Fenech and Falzon. Not to be outdone, the newly promoted Valletta asserted their prowess beating Sliema 6-5, Neptunes 8-3, Sirens 6-1 and Balluta 3-2 going on to win the Division I league title – a remarkable performance by a club who had been absent for a long period from the top water polo competitions. They ended their season by also claiming the Knock Out competition when they beat Sliema 3-1. Valletta’s formation consisted of Rizzo, G Testaferrata, Antoncic, Fenech, Azzopardi, B Dowling and Zerafa.
In 1951 the Division I League was contested by Valletta, the reigning champions, Sliema, Sirens and Balluta since Neptunes had been relegated to Division II. Valletta repeated their feat of the previous year by winning the double and were only put under pressure by Sliema, against whom they drew twice with the identical score of 4-4.
A match in the old-style water polo open sea pitches
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
1952 saw the rise of Balluta who confirmed their improvement by winning both the league and the knock out titles. The latter competition was won after three replays with Balluta beating Sirens by the close score of 3-2. This achievement was a personal triumph for their hard-working founder Guze Tanti and loyal committee members. This team, although lacking experience, were able to hold off the stronger teams through their outstanding youth energy and extreme enthusiasm.
Balluta – Winners of the League and Knock Out Competitions 1952
Ciarlo, A Tonna, F Miggiani, C Borg, L Falzon, J Grixti, F Fenech, E Micallef
Source: Andrew Fenech
In 1953, Balluta encountered stiffer opposition from the more experienced clubs of Valletta and Sliema and had to be content with the runner-up position for five consecutive years. Sliema, demonstrating persistent good form, returned to the honours list by claiming the double. They obtained the following results, beating Neptunes 2-1 and 4-2, they drew against Valletta 3-3 and beat them 3-1, the beat Sirens 1-0 and 4-2 and finally beat the reigning champions Balluta 2-1 and 5-2. In the final of the Knock Out competition, Valletta decided to concede a walk-over following the Association’s decision not to uphold the protest they lodged against Sliema involving past incidents between the two teams during the league competition.
Sliema ASC – 1953
Standing from left ;- Alex Gollcher, Billy Naudi, Rene Testaferrata, Sydney Scott, Denis Degiorgio, Edwin Meli
squatting from left – Paddy Mifsud, Frans Frendo, Teddy Calleja, Tony Galea
In 1954, Sliema consolidated their position when they repeated the previous year’s feat and won the Division I league and Knock Out competitions. They won the former with a five-point advantage over their closest rivals Balluta. Sliema registered the following results:-
Vs Neptunes 3-2
Vs Valletta 3-2 and 3-0
Vs Sirens 6-1 and 3-1
Vs Balluta 4-3 and 3-4
The Division I league was not concluded hence the missing result against Neptunes in the return encounter. In view of the fact that Valletta, Balluta and Neptunes withdrew from the Knock Out competition, the ASA organised the Cup on a home-and-away basis and Sliema beat Sirens on both occasions with the scores of 6-2 and 2-1.
In 1955, Sliema, for the first time since their formation in the Twenties, decided to withdraw from all competitions. Valletta, taking full advantage of this, went on to win the Division I League beating Neptunes 3-1 and 5-1, Sirens 1-0 and 5-1 and obtaining a victory and a draw against Balluta with the scores of 4-1 and 3-3. In the Knock Out competition, Valletta beat Neptunes with the score of 5-3 to claim the Double.
THE SECOND HALF OF THE FIFTIES
1956 was a historic year in the annals of Maltese water polo as the ASA organised a short visit to Sicily in August. They played a match against the Sicilian Club Ortigia and registered a great victory beating the Sicilians by 9 goals to 2. The playing conditions were very similar to those in Malta in that the match was held in the open sea but under floodlights. The match, officiated by an Italian referee assisted by two Maltese linesmen, namely Schembri and Micallef (both leading Maltese referees), attracted a very large crowd and the officials controlled the match from three frejgatini-type of boats placed well away from the quay which formed the pitch.
The ASA team made a brilliant start when Budgy Dowling scored Malta’s first goal from a Dennis Degiorgio pass. With Ortigia shaken by this early goal, and despite some poor refereeing, Dennis Degiorgio had a fast break, and in a solo effort, added to Malta’s tally. The third goal, scored by Dowling from almost half pitch, was the outcome of a quick movement by the Malta side. Tony Galea was sent off the pitch but the Sicilians failed to capitalise on their numerical superiority. At the start of the second half Ortigia played better and reduced the gap through Bongiovanni whilst still enjoying a man-up situation. Malta kept their cool and Degiorgio created another fast break and following a series of quick passes with Falzon, the latter netted Malta’s fourth goal. Ortigia made the score 4-2 through a penalty. Degiorgio remedied his failure to score through a personal effort scoring his second goal. From this point forward Malta never faltered and Degiorgio claimed a hat-trick while Dowling added another three goals to his tally giving Malta a well deserved 9-2 victory. The team lined up as follows:
CC Ortigia Siracusa: Norcia, I Mirabello, Trombadore, Bongiovanni, Rizza, Didato and Mirabello
ASA Malta: Micallef Eynaud, Triganza, Galea, Catania, Falzon, Dowling and Degiorgio
On the local scene, Valletta scored another Double despite the great effort Balluta made to stop them in the league. Valletta won the title with a two-point advantage, beating Neptunes 3-2, Sliema 3-1 and 3-2, Sirens 7-1 and Balluta 3-2, obtaining a draw against Sirens (2-2) and Balluta and losing to Neptunes (0-2). Balluta ending up runners-up. Valletta went on to win the Knock Out beating Sliema by 4 goals to 3.
In 1957 it was Sliema’s turn to capture the Double in quite an eventful season. Whilst the first leg of the league proceeded without any incidents, in the second leg match between Valletta and Neptunes officiated by Major A Briffa, pandemonium broke out after the Valletta captain was excluded from the match. In the uproar following this decision, Major Briffa was thrown in the water by some Valletta players and the match was abandoned. The ASA took the incident very seriously and suspended Valletta for the rest of the season with a 10-year ban from any ASA competition which was applicable to the Valletta Committee and five of the seven players who took part in the incidents.
Sliema ASC – League and Knock Out double winners
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
Sliema, showing consistent form, claimed the Championship trophy by winning 5 matches, drawing twice and losing once, finishing four points clear of their closest rivals Balluta. In the Knock Out competition, although Sliema won their first match in the final against Neptunes with a score of 4-3, a replay was forced when ASA upheld a protest lodged by Neptunes. Not to be undermined, Sliema won the replay with a score of 5-3.
1958 saw Balluta return to the forefront claiming the Division 1 League after winning the decider against Sirens by 2 goals to 1. During this year, Neptunes and Sliema had mixed fortunes and were forced to the back seats having one only one of their six leagues matches. However, Sliema, after the return of Triganza, Galea and Degiorgio who had gone abroad to represent Malta in the Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff, redeemed themselves by winning the Knock Out. Sirens, who lost out to Balluta in the league decider, went on to win the Reserves and Boys leagues.
On the international scene, the ASA accepted an invitation to participate in the Coppa Trinacria in Catania where their opponents would be Ionica Catania, Ortigia Sicily and Jadran Yugoslavia. The following players were selected to represent Malta:-
Balluta: C Mock, L Falzon, A Tonna and C Borg
Neptunes: A Geranzi, W Mamo, E Xuereb, A Albanese
Sirens: P Catania
Sliema: D Degiorgio, A Galea, C Triganza
Malta lost their first match against Ortigia by 7 goals to 6 but got their sweet revenge on the return match when they won by 7 goals to 5. In the first match the scorers were D Degiorgio 4 and a goal apiece for C Triganza and L Falzon. In the return match the goals were scored by A Galea, L Falzon, D Degiorgio 2 and C Triganza 3. In the other match Jadran beat Ionica by 6 goals to 4. The final classification was Jadran, Malta, Ortigia and Ionica.
In 1959, Sirens etched their name on the list of clubs who won the Division I League Championships. They ended the competition on equal points with Sliema but, unlike the previous year, Sirens had the better of their opponents when, in the repeat decider, they beat Sliema by 3 goals to 2. Sirens’ victory was a hard-fought affair after the first decider ended in a goalless draw.
Unfortunately, in the Knock Out Final between Neptunes and Balluta, things did not go smoothly. An incident occurred between some Balluta supporters and a Neptunes player when the score read 2-1 in favour of Balluta. After this interval Neptunes refused to continue the match and the Balluta team swam up and planted the ball in an empty goal post thus winning the trophy which was ill-fated from the word go as it had already been postponed twice due to bad weather.
Sirens WPC -1959-60-61 League Champions and 1962 KO Winners.
Besides winning the Division I League, Sirens also won the Boys’ League, while Marsaxlokk claimed the Double in the Second Division repeating their 1957 feat.
Marsaxlokk winners of the 2nd Division League and Knock Out – 1957
Back Row (left to right) K Camilleri, JM Carabott, J Vella and J Grech
Front Row: FX Vella, M Bugeja and C Carabott.
THE EARLY SIXTIES – DIFFICULTIES WITH REFEREES, NEW FINA RULES AND NEW CLUS
In 1960, with the ASA encountering difficulties with referees, and having to appoint officials from only four available, the circumstances were not ideal. The referee Eddie Bonello ended up officiating most of the Division I matches which was not a healthy situation. Notwithstanding this, the competitions went ahead and Sirens of St Paul’s Bay battled for the league honours with Balluta as their main rivals. After drawing 3-3 in the all-important deciding league match, Sirens managed to net the vital goal to be crowned Champions. Sirens repeated this success in the Reserves League when, needing only one point, they drew 4-4 against Neptunes to claim this title. The Knock Out competition had to be assigned after a decider. Sirens had beaten Neptunes then faced Sliema with the game ending in a 3-3 draw. In the decider, Sliema claimed the title by beating Sirens 4-3.
1961 marked the introduction of new FINA rules which consisted of 4 five-minute sessions of actual playing time with a two-minute interval between each period; teams could have four reserves who were allowed to join their teams either during intervals or else prior to the commencement of extra time; injured or sick goalkeeper were to be substituted and, in the case of cup ties, in the event that the score was tied at the end of the regular four periods, 2 three-minute sessions of extra time would be played.
This year also saw the introduction of Gzira in the Division I League. In their debut, Gzira were beaten 10-1 by a far superior and experienced Balluta team. However, the newcomers were quick to recover and went on to beat Neptunes 2-1 as well as obtaining a draw against Valletta.
Sirens once again went on to win the Division I League without losing a match. Sliema, their closest opponents, claimed the runners-up spot, three points behind the Champions. In the Knock Out, Balluta, after eliminating Sliema, beat the newly crowned Champions Sirens to claim the honours. Balluta also won the Boys League beating Neptunes in the decider which was necessary after both teams ended their commitments on equal points. At the end of the season, a commemorative match was organised between an ASA Selection and a Malta Sports Association representative side to mark the 25th anniversary of veteran referee J Agius Gilbert.
After their league success, Sirens travelled to Sicily to participate in the triangular tournament “Stelle del Mare e Delfini” which was held in Messina. Having drawn a bye, Sirens lost 4-0 to Catania who had beaten Messina in the opening match.
1962 featured the visit of the Yugoslav team Plivaeki Klub JUG Dubrovnik who were invited by Balluta. They were the first foreign team to visit Malta since 1949 when the Italian team RN Florentia were Valletta’s guests. Playing a total of four matches, JUG beat Sliema and Balluta 8-5, Sirens 6-4 and ASA VII 10-2.
Action from the match between Malta and JUG Dubrovnik
Source: Charlie Mock
In the local competitions, Sliema claimed the Division I League title with a clean sheet. Their standard team consisted of Micallef Eynaud, Triganza, Frendo, Pace, Dowling, Galea and Degiorgio. The Knock Out was won by Sirens with G Borg distinguishing himself for the St Paul’s Bay side.
Sadly, this year marked the untimely demise of Kanesi Demicoli at the age of 47. He was a first-class water polo player with uncanny reflexes as well as a fine swimmer. He formed part of the RMA, St Julians and the National teams and also competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
1963 - BALLUTA’S FINEST YEAR.
1963 could be defined as Balluta’s finest year. Having entered the Division I league in 1950, Balluta crowned this year by winning the honours of this competition when, in the final, they beat the strong Sliema side by 4 goals to 3. In the Knock Out Balluta completed the double when they beat Sirens. They also captured the Boys League by beating Neptunes 4-1 in the all-deciding match. Marsaskala were the winners of the Division II League and Knock Out with Marsaxlokk finishing in runners-up position in both competitions.
The team of Balluta WPC – 1963 Double Winners
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
Charlie Mock in goal for Balluta against Sliema at the Neptunes Pitch in 1963 – his trait was that
he could hang in the air’ as seen in this picture and people used to believe that he would be
standing on a rock. Right in front of Charlie Mock his team-mate Karm Borg.
Following their success on the local scene, Balluta travelled to Yugoslavia as guests of JUG. Balluta played five matches against stiff opposition obtaining 1 draw and 5 losses with the following results:-
Vs PK JUG 1 – 9
Vs Leotar 3 – 5
Vs Kercula 2 – 12
Vs Mlini Gusa 3 – 3
Vs Kercula 3 – 7
On their way back to Malta they stopped in Italy and placed two friendly matches, one in Bari, beating Rari Nantes by 11 goals to 4 and one in Sicily, beating Messina by 12 goals to 2.
The ASA embarked on its first post-war international competition when they competed in the Mediterranean Games in Naples, Italy. The contingent, led by Major A Briffa, consisted of A Portelli, A Albanese, W Mamo, N Miller, C Triganza, J Micallef Eynaud, J Pace, A Galea, C Dowling, C Mock, A Grixti, G Borg, G Muscat and J Zammit.
Due to the withdrawal of a number of countries including Spain, Libya, Syria and Tunis, Malta was placed in the group with Italy, Yugoslavia, France and the United Arab Republic. Unfortunately, and to no surprise, the results obtained were not at all encouraging as Malta lost all its matches with the following results: vs Yugoslavia 0-10; vs Italy 0-13, vs France 0-11 and vs UAR 0-6.
Mediterranean Games, Naples, Italy – 1963
Mr C Micallef was nominated by the ASA Council to act as a referee in the water polo competition while Major AP Briffa, Malta’s Chef de Mission, offered his services to act as a judge in the swimming competitions.
1964 – NEPTUNES WINNING HONOURS, ASA IN SICILY COMPETITION AND A TOURNAMENT TO CELEBRATE MALTA’S INDEPENDENCE
In 1964, Neptunes, emulated their neighbour’s feat of the previous year by winning both the Division I League and the Knock Out. In the league Neptunes secured the title with a 3-point advantage over runners-up Sirens. In the Knock Out final played at the Sirens pitch in St Paul’s Bay, Neptunes beat Balluta by 2 goals to 1. Neptunes also went on to win the Minors League following a decider against Balluta. The only consolation for Balluta was to win the Division II honours with Sliema ending up runners-up in that same competition.
Neptunes WPC after being presented with the trophies at Sirens Pitch.
Standing L-R Joe Chetcuti, Anthony Ciantar, Wilfred Mamo, Bertie Portelli, Robert Ebejer, Michael Fenech and Joe Aquilina.
Squatting L-R: Carol Calleja, Joseph Wismayer, Tony Albanese, and Jimmy Micallef Eynaud.
Missing from picture are Joe Ellul and Freddie Portelli
Source: 50 Years Neptunes WPC 1929-1979
In the Division II League Balluta emerged winners with Sliema as Runners-Up. In the Minors League Balluta and Neptunes were Joint Winers.
The ASA participated in the 4th edition of the Coppa Trinacria in Sicily were their opponents were Accese (Acireale), Ionica (Catania) and Ortigia (Siracuse). In the semi-finals Malta lost to Ionica 2-1 while Ortigia lost to Accese 5-8. In the final Accese triumphed over Ionica with the score reading 8-4 while Ortigia beat Malta 1-0 in the final for 3rd and 4th Place.
The Malta Team
Standing L-R A Galea, B Portelli, I Pace, Bertie Muscat, G Sclivagnotis, Maj Clews, A Aquilina (officials), G Lewis, G Borg and J Micallef Eynaud.
Squatting L-R J borg, A Grixti, J Zammit, C Cauchi, J Muscat and J Wismayer
This year also marked Malta gaining its Independence from the British and to celebrate this auspicious occasion the ASA organised an International Water Polo Tournament with two Sicilian teams and a Near East RAF team as the ASA’s opponents.
The tournament was watched by a very enthusiastic crowd, Malta and in the first match Malta went ahead through goals by Grixti and Dowling but the Italians drew level with goals from Conversi and Prenisi. To the delight of the jubilant crowd Bertie Portelli scored the all-important goal to give Malta the well-deserved victory. At the semi-final phase, Ionica beat RAF NE by 6 goals to 3 and Malta trounced Ortigia 9-0 which was a sweet revenge for the loss the Maltese suffered at the hands of the same team in the Coppa Trinacria in Sicily. In the final, Malta beat Ionica 3-2 while RAF NE placed third after beating Ortigia by 3 goals to 1. Grixti, Dowling and B Portelli were the scoreres for Malta. The Malta team in the final was composed of Micallef Eynaud, Wismayer, A Galea, Portelli, Dowling, Zammit and Mock.
1965 – AN INCIDENT EFFECTING THE HONOURS OUTCOME & SPORTS HONOURS AWARDED TO AQUATIC ATHLETES
The relative incident-free years of 1962 to 1964 were to come to an end in 1965 when, following an incident between a Sliema player and a Valletta player, the referee decided to abandon the match when the Sliema team were ahead by 2 goals to 1. This decision made the battle for the honours easier for Neptunes and Balluta who, having finished their league commitments on equal points, had to resort to a decider which Balluta eventually won by 2 goals to 1 with the goals scored by Bonello and J Borg for Balluta and Albanese for Neptunes.
Bonello scoring Balluta’s opening goal in the Division I League Decider
between Balluta and Neptunes held at Sliema Pitch
Having lost the league through an unjust referee’s decision, Sliema made amends in the Knock Out competition. They disposed of Neptunes, beat Sirens after a replay had to be held and went on to meet Balluta in the final. This was an epic match with Sliema going ahead by 3 goals only for Balluta to draw level. However, practically on the final whistle, Sliema netted the winning goal through Axiaq
Neptunes travelled to Sicily where they participated in the 5th Coppa Trinacria as guests of Ionica Catania. Neptunes lost their first match against Accese but went on to win their next match against a Catania selection by 3 goals to 0. Neptunes reciprocated the invitation and Ionica travelled to Malta to participate in a competition which, for the first time ever, was held at the Dragonara Swimming Pool. In the first match Balluta beat Ionica 6-2 with Dowling netting a hat trick. Neptunes, on the other hand, were held to a 5-5 draw by the Sicilian team with Albanese scoring all his sides’ goals.
Christine Cauchi – Sportswoman of the Year 1965
Alfred Grixti – Sportsman of the Year 1965
1966 - TROUBLE BREWED EARLY
In 1966, trouble brewed early in the league when Sliema beat their eternal rival Neptunes by 4 goals to 0, with the referee Major Briffa sending off no less than nine players during the match. Hot protests followed this turbulent match but the ASA ruled that the result was to stand. In their next fixture Sliema were due to meet Valletta but unfortunately the referee failed to turn up and the ASA had to suspend the league. Following the referees’ attitude, the ASA responded by failing to recognise the Malta Referees Association and took the bold decision to make arrangements for two foreign referees to travel to Malta from Sicily. This arrangement was made possible through an agreement with the Italian Water Polo and Referees Association and was to repeated in the years to follow. The league resumed and proceeded normally with Balluta winning the Division I league by beating Sliema by 4 goals to 1 with Vella netting a hat trick.
The ASA decided to cancel the Knock Out competition due to the late start of the water polo season owing to the problems with the local referees.
Attention in the local competitions was diverted by a visit of the Czech team Pilsen. Whilst not of the same standard of the Yugoslav side of JUG, the Czechs registered four victories with the following scores:- Vs Valletta 3-2, vs Neptunes 3-1, vs Sirens 3-1 and vs Sliema 4-2.
Otters SC of London also undertook a Malta visit and once again the foreign team were unbeaten in the five matches against local teams. They obtained the following results: vs Valletta 6-1, vs Sliema 5-2, vs Neptunes 3-2, vs Sirens 7-2 and vs Balluta 4-2.
Sirens were the only local team to travel overseas for an end of season competition. They participated in the Coppa Vasta held in Pozzallo, Sicily, losing their first match against Pozzallo by 3 goals to 9 and holding Libertas Picanello to a 3-3 draw.
1967 – SIRENS WPC, AN INTERNATIONAL QUADRANGULAR AND PARTICIPATION IN THE MEDITERRANEAN GAMES
In 1967 Sirens edged out the more fancied Sliema and Neptunes sides to carry off the Division I League title. They had a compact side with George Borg featuring as their prolific goal scorer, and in fact it was this player who converted a penalty in the final match against Sliema which allowed Sirens to claim the title. This was a well-deserved honour as Sirens won all their matches except one which they drew.
Sirens WPC Division I League Winners – 1967
Source: History of Water Polo in Malta by Arthur J Leaver
Sliema made up for their league disappointment by carrying off the Reserves and Boys Leagues honours. Once again, the Knock Out competition was not held this year.
In this year Libertas (Sicily), Otters and Penguins from England and an RAF side from Cyprus visited Malta to play against local teams. Libertas, a 2nd Division team from Catania played five matches losing against Neptunes, Balluta, Sliema and Sirens and winning only 1 match. A quadrangular tournament was organised between the two English sides, the RAF and a representative ASA team. This competition drew large crowds to the disused St Julians Central Aquatic Sports Club and was won by the ASA team.
Malta once more participated in the Mediterranean Games which were hosted by Tunisia. The Malta water polo team was composed of T Albanese, R Bonello, G Borg, J Chetcuti, R Falzon, C Falzon, J Muscat, I Pace, R Sant Cassia, C Triganza and A Vella. Unfortunately, Malta did not fare well, losing their group matches against Yugoslavia 13-0 and Greece with a score of 7-0. They beat Turkey with a score of 3 goals to 2. In the match for 5th/6th place Malta lost to Tunisia 4-5 but placed 6th in the final classification having beaten Turkey. This was Malta’s second win in an international competition abroad, the first being the win against Luxembourg in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Yugoslavia won the Gold Medal beating Italy 8-7 in a foul-ridden final. It is important to note that Major Briffa was the referee in the match between Greece and Spain for the 3rd/4th place which was won by Spain with a score of 4-2.
The Malta Contingent
It was Sliema’s turn to organise an overseas trip to Sicily where they played two matches against Libertas. Sliema won both matches with the scores of 3-1 and 3-2. Dennis Degiorgio distinguished himself by claiming 5 of the club’s total tally of six goals.
On the 8th September of this year, the new water polo pitch at Birzebbuga was inaugurated by the Hon Dr C Caruana, Minister of Public Building & Works.
1968 – SLIEMA’S RETURN TO TOP FORM, MORE REFEREE ISSUES AND THE INTERNATIONAL QUADRANGULAR
In 1968, Sliema returned to top form winning the Division I league without losing a match and with a four-point advantage over their closest rivals, Neptunes. This Sliema side sported three Dowling players, namely Dennis, James and Chris, the latter scoring 22 of his club’s total of 34 league goals. Sliema were also victorious in the Boys League and their stalwart Charles Triganza won the Sportsman of the Year award.
Sliema ASC Division I League Winners – 1968
Standing from left;- Frans Frendo (Coach), Tony Galea, Vanni Fabri, Ivan Pace, Tony Fava, Paul Fava, Charles Triganza
Squatting from left – Denis Dowling, Chris Dowling, James Dowling, Michael Soler, Peter Bonello
In the other competitions, Balluta won the Knock Out competition, Sirens won the Boys Knock Out and Neptunes won the U20 league. Valletta won the Division II League thus gaining promotion to the Senior League in the following year.
Unfortunately, the problem of referees persisted and the ASA had to resort to appointing Italian officials. In the Knock Out competition none of the foreign referees turned up and a third-class Maltese official had to control the match. To add pressure on the Association, the Knock Out Final ended in a draw, and once again a foreign referee had to be appointed. Sirens, refused to play the previous year’s Knock Out final which had been postponed due to Malta’s participation in the Mediterranean Games and in the prevailing discontent, Bertie Muscat, the ASA President, resigned from the Council.
Having won the Division I League, Sliema organised a short visit to England where they played five matches, obtaining the following results:-
Vs Eastbourne 7-3, vs Woodside 4-2, vs Chiver 5-5, vs Brighton 7-7 and vs Sutton & Cheam 5-10.
During this year Sutton and Cheam, an English team, visited Malta and played matches against most of the First Division clubs, winning all their encounters with the following results:-
Vs Sirens 2-8, vs Balluta 2-6, vs Neptunes 4-7 and vs Marsascala 1-8
As had become the norm, the ASA organised the Quadrangular International Tournament inviting Sutton & Cheam from England, a selection from Sicily and a representative RAF side. The ASA fielded the following players for this competition: P Bonello, A Vella, C Falzon, I Pace, C Mock, C Triganza, B Portelli, G Muscat, A Grixti, C Dowling and J Chetcuti. The results registered in the competition were:-
ASA Vs Sutton & Cheam 2-0, ASA vs Sicily 5-2, ASA vs RAF 7-4, Sutton & Cheam vs Sicily 6-6, Sutton & Cheam vs RAF 9-3 and Sicily vs RAF 5-4.
1969 - NEPTUNES CLOSE THE DECADE ON A HIGH NOTE
In 1969, Neptunes closed the decade on a high note winning the Division I League as well as the Knock Out competition, claiming the double. In this year, Sirens found themselves suspended from the league competitions while Valletta made their return to the top competition although they found going very tough and lost all their matches. In the other competitions, Sliema and Balluta tied in the Division I Reserves League, Marsaxlokk won the Division II Reserves League and Marsascala the Division II Knock Out. Sliema also won the Boys League and Knock Out competitions.
Neptunes – Winners of the Double – 1969
Standing L-R: Ian Camilleri, Paul Falzon, Bertie Portelli, Joe Chetcuti, Vince Cuschieri, Lance Corporal Tony “Scottie” Scott.
Squatting: Joseph Wismayer, Wilfred Mamo, Francis Gouder, Freddie Grixti and Paul Cachia
For this year’s Quadrangular International Tournament, a competition which seemed to be growing in stature every year, the ASA invited Otters (UK), Giglio Bianco (Italy) and a team of Combined Services. As in the past editions, Malta once again triumphed and the following were the results of all matches:-
ASA vs Combined Services 4-2, Otters vs Giglio Bianco 6-6, ASA vs Otters 8-4, Giglio Bianco vs Combined Services 1-3, Otters vs Combined Services 2-2 and ASA vs Giglio Bianco 4-2.
THE EARLY SEVENTIES – VALLETTA’S POSITIVE START & THE FIRST FOREIGNERS
The Seventies were inaugurated in a very positive manner for Valletta WPC who won the Division I League against all expectations. In their final match to decide the league honours Valletta had the better of Sirens by 5 goals to 4 and the added bonus of playing this match in their own pitch.
Valletta WPC – Division I League winners – 1970
Standing (Back row) – George Plumpton, John Curmi ‘Buffalo’, Guzi Attard ‘l-Ors’, Frank Zampa, Salvu Debono, Joe Agius Ruggier
Standing (middle row) Paul Galea (Kaxxier), Charlie Curmi, Jo Jo Bajada, John Curmi (Coach), Dominic Pool, George Agius ‘Helikopter’, Joe Angileri.
Sitting – Gulinu Aquilina, John Maloney, Maurice Busutill (Buzu), Dr. E. Bonnici (President), Joe Fountain, Harry Cutajar and Notary Cachia
The Knock Out competition was won by Neptunes whilst the U21 League title was captured by Sliema.
A new feature in 1970 was the inclusion of foreign players in the ranks of some local clubs. Valletta engaged an Australian, Mallory, whilst Sliema included Thurley from the United Kingdom in their team.
This year also featured a visit by Penguins, an English Club, who had a very successful tour, winning all their matches and obtaining the following results:-
Vs Valletta 4-0, vs Sirens 7-0, vs Neptunes 3-0, vs Sliema 5-2 and vs Balluta 5-1.
In 1971, Valletta, strengthened by the signing of three new players, namely Falzon from Neptunes, Martin from Balluta and Portelli from Sirens, repeated the previous year’s achievement when they beat Sliema in a thrilling final to claim the Division I League title for the second year running. Both teams had a foreign player included in their teams – Mahoney (Valletta) and Roddy James, a former GB international (Sliema).
Otters ASC – Division II League Champions 1971
Malta travelled to Sicily to participate in a competition hosted in Aqua Pozzillo and played matches against the hosts, Mediterraneao and Ortigia. Malta lost to Aqua Pozzillo by 2 goals to 8 and beat Ortigia with a score of 3-2. The Malta team was coached by David Barr of Great Britain.
The ASA invited three teams from Sicily to participate in their Annual Quadrangular Tournament but unfortunately only Aqua Pozzillo honoured their commitment. Valletta, the Division I League Champions, stepped in and both Malta and Valletta beat Aqua Pozzillo with the scores reading 9-5 and 5-3 respectively. The Malta team was composed of Soler, Frendo Jones, Jones, Chetcuti, Wismayer, Vella, Bonello, Falzon and Muscat.
Malta did not compete in this year’s edition of the Mediterranean Games held in Izmir, Turkey, however, Bertie Muscat, the ASA President, was busy finalising the organisation of the first official International Water Polo Competition to be hosted in Malta, as well as attending the LEN Conference.
1972 – THE ASA’S FIRST EVER INTERNATIONAL WATER POLO COMPETITION FOR NATIONS
1972 was the year in which the ASA hosted its first ever international water polo competition for nations. This was held at the Neptunes Pitch between the 21st and 31st July, attracting great crowds who thronged to see the spectacular performances of the national teams hailing from Greece, Israel, Scotland, Switzerland and their own national team. Malta was coached by Sliema player and coach Franz Frendo and Mr Rossi from CONI acted as advisor for this tournament. The Malta team was composed of the following players:- J Attard, H Cutajar, P Falzon, J Curmi (Valletta), P Bonello, P Cachia, C Falzon and A Vella (Balluta), A Cauchi, J Chetcuti, F Frendo Jones, A Grixti and J Wismayer (Neptunes), D Dowling, D Pool, M Soler and C Zammit (Sliema). The Maltese referees chosen to officiate in this competition were C Micallef, J Cachia and T Buhagiar.
In their opening match, Malta started on a low note and narrowly lost the game 3-4 to Scotland. In their second match against Israel, Malta showed more fighting spirit and managed to obtain a 6-6 draw.
Double winners in 1972 – (standing) David Zarb Mizzi, Edward Gatt, Joe Chetcuti, Andre’ Cauchi, Alex Stellini, Frederick Frendo Jones;
(front row) Martin Xuereb, Freddie Griscti, Jean Curmi, Joseph Wismayer, Peter Zammit.
Malta International Water Polo Tournament – Neptunes Pitch 1972
A huge following at Sliema Pitch in the golden days of Waterpolo
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