Wednesday 22nd January 2014 ko 18.00
Malta FA Trophy 4th Round
PIETA HOTSPURS 1 (Kooh Sohana 82)
At Centenary Stadium, Ta’ Qali
Entry €6 (both games)
Our last full day in Malta allowed a visit to one of the islands most famous sites, Fort Rinella, on the eastern side of the Grand Harbour, over the water from Valletta. The number 3 bus made its way past Vapur for Hibernians’ ground, then past the former Naval Prison and Kalkara before terminating outside the main gate.
The fort was built by the British between 1878 and 1886 to house a single 100-ton Armstrong gun capable of firing a 1 ton shell 8 miles. It was a response to the Italian navy having, in 1873, built the battleships Duilio and Dandalo with 22 inches of steel armour and four similarly large 100-ton cannons each too. Ironically those guns were designed and produced by Armstrong’s, so it was a good time to be a shareholder of that firm!
The gun was in active service for only 20 years, being withdrawn from active service in 1906, without ever firing a shot in anger. Because a single shell cost as much as the daily wage of 2,600 soldiers, practice firing was limited to one shot every 3 months!
During World War II the fort was used for storage, an ideal site because from a plane’s view, it blends into the fields. The Navy gave up the site in 1956, and it lay derelict until the Wirt Artna took it over in 1991 and restored it as a fascinating glimpse into Malta’s past.
My choice of game wasn’t as straightforward to find though. Andy had a youth game at Santa Lucia which would have suited me fine, there was two more Trophy games at the Tedesco Stadium, but I fancied a crack at Ta’ Qali. I’d been warned off by another hopper the previous evening, him commenting that it was difficult to navigate both to and from. There were two more Trophy games there, but could it be done?
I asked at the information booth at Valletta bus station, and with our base in Sliema either the 202 or 203 service via just about everywhere would drop me off at Snajja – walking distance from the ground. Nevertheless I was a little apprehensive, it didn’t look easy, and with the last bus back being 5 minutes after the scheduled finish of the second game (it finished Floriana 0 Naxxar Lions 1) it was an easy decision to miss that game. I was fortunate that my bus driver was an Arsenal fan so he helped me with the correct stop and I waxed lyrical about Thierry Henry!
It is odd that the National Stadium of Malta is so inaccessible, I walked through the type of craft village that pays coach drivers to stop there, past the Aviation Museum then finally into the stadium complex itself. There are three possibilities to see a game here. Firstly there’s the National Stadium, inaugurated in 1981 and holding 18,000. Next door there’s the Centenary Stadium holding 2,000, and there’s a floodlit training ground which was hosting a youth game during my game at the complex.
The Centenary Stadium, named to comemorate 100 year anniversary of the MFA in 2000 is a typical Maltese affair, albeit well-appointed and with cover. There’s just the one viewable side, split 3 ways with a 3G pitch. The routine was well-oiled by now, wangle a teamsheet from the VIP section, then get to the ticket office. Except for the first time I actually cared which end I was in! I wanted to be in the Hibs end, as I’d visited their ground the previous Saturday, and there was the Martin-factor to be considered as well! It proved to be something of a mistake!
It was the kind of game you wouldn’t have wanted to bet on. Premier League and Cup-holders Hibernians versus Division One Pieta, whose only advantage was that they use the Centenary Stadium for home games. As expected Hibs had the vast majority of possession but despite the pace of Clayton Fialla and Obinna Obiefuele up front the Pieta defence held out through skill, determination and on three occasions the woodwork!
It all changed for Pieta when they brought on Jeremiah Ani to give Raphael Kooh Sohana a foil up front. 4 minutes later the two combined with Kooh Sahana slotting home neatly past Daniel Balzan in the Hibs goal. Hibs threw everything they had forward in the last few minutes to try to force extra time. Obiefuele was booked for diving and Luis Edison fired wide at the death but the underdogs held firm to record a classic giant-killing.
I picked my way through the darkened paths to my bus stop, admiring the Mdina skyline as I did. There wasn’t enough light to read the timetable at the stop but the wall was comfortable to sit on and soon enough I caught the bus back to Sliema. It really wasn’t that complicated after all, you just need to ask the right people and back your own ability sometimes.
We flew home the next day, our bus wending its way through darkened streets to the airport where the nervous pensioners were checking in with the close supervision of their holiday rep. I grabbed a final Kinnie and a few presents, and thanked Andy without whom I wouldn’t have been there, and you wouldn’t be reading this. Thanks mate.