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Tuesday 21st January 2014

18.00 Malta FA Trophy 4th Round

LUXOL ST ANDREWS 0

BIRKIRKARA 4 (Camenzuli 12 86 Bissi 32 Benites 74)

Att c400

20.00 Malta FA Trophy 4th Round

QORMI 0 Bajada missed penalty 120

TARXIEN RAINBOWS 0

AET Qormi won 6-5 on penalties

Att c200

Both games at Victor Tedescu Stadium (Hamrun Spartans), Hamrun

Entry €6

No Programme

Teamsheets FREE

Coffee 60c

With the change in locale it was high time for Andy and I to explore Malta’s capital, Valletta. It’s one of the world’s smallest capitals, being just 0.8 km2 in size. It was named after Jean Parisot de Valette, who succeeded in defending the island from an Ottoman invasion in 1565, and is one of the world’s first examples of a city designed along the grid system.

It’s the defences though that grab the attention, the huge walls were constructed in the 15th century and proved to be a bastion against German and Italian attack during the Axis powers attempts to invade the strategically important island in World War II. The legend has it that the island was defended by 3 Gloster Gladiator aircroft named Faith, Hope and Charity.

The bravery of the Maltese people during the siege moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis in 1942, “To bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. The cross is displayed on the national flag.

We made for the Saluting Battery where each midday and at 4pm a cannon fires marking the time over the Grand Harbour. It’s a tradition that was once essential to sailors, but now is carried out by Wirtartna, the Maltese version of the UK’s National Trust.

After that we explored the narrow streets, and enjoyed the multiplicity of coffee shops, churches and tiny shops. That, moving back to the football for a minute proved to be handy. There’s very little in the way of merchandise to be found at a Maltese football matches so the two shops one on Merchants Street selling pennants, and the other in Old Theatre Street selling badges proved to be handy, and profitable for the proprietors!

It wasn’t difficult to find a street café that sold Maltese cuisine, in my case Fencata, or stewed rabbit, washed down with a pint of locally brewed Cisk. From  there it was simple enough to catch the bus the two stops to Bombi, and take the 10 minute walk to Hamrun, and the Victor Tedesco Stadium.

The ground has been home to the Hamrun Spartans since 1996, but unlike Hibernians Hamrun do seem to play the majority of their games there! The ground is named after the club’s former President and principle benefactor, whose oil businesses funded Spartans successes in the 1980’s including European fixtures against the likes of Dundee United and Benfica. The ground was improved in 2008 with a 3G pitch reckoned to be the best in Malta and floodlights too.

The difficulty now is since Tedesco’s death the club have struggled. They were relegated from the Premier League last season and are rock bottom of Division One. A club official glumly commented, ” We’re playing the youth team, they’ll be good eventually, but come and see us in two years, when we’ve been relegated again and promoted from Divison 2!” He also commented that they love to play sides from the UK, “If you know any clubs that would like to come here on tour, and play us tell them to contact us, we’ll consider even pub sides…” On that basis here’s their email hamrunspartans@gmail.

Whilst enjoying my braised rabbit earlier, I’d researched the competition. Currently styled the U*Bet Trophy, the trophy was a gift from the English FA in 1933 in appreciation of a contingent of Maltese fans cheering on England against Italy in Rome! The silver trophy was to be for a competition along the same line as the FA Cup, and to this day that occurs with, since 2011 all the Gozitan clubs entering too.

The first game was a potential giant-killing with Luxol St Andrews of Division One, taking on Premier Division leaders Birkirkara. The game went precisely by the form book as Birkirkara showed why they are favourites for the title by sweeping the opponents aside. St Andrews worked hard but had no answers to the slick passing and pace of Birkirkara.

The second game, well, oh dear. The Premier League strugglers utterly cancelled each other out, and the penalty shoot out looked inevitable well before extra time. It was a tedious two hours and to add insult to boredom Roderick Bajada missed a penalty for Qormi in the last few seconds of extra time. The Tarxien fans celebrated, then watched horrified during the resulting penalty shoot-out as Qormi keeper Matthew Farrugia saved 3 times to help his club into the quarter-finals.

I dashed away as fast as a fat bloke can move and just made the last bus back to Sliema. I’m not the type to enjoy a two-and-a-half mile walk in the rain.