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Gozo Football Leagues and Cup Competitions Review 2023/24

Published: Sun 30 Jun 2024, 21:26
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Gozo Football Leagues & Cup Competition Review 2023/24

1 – A total of 27 Association trained youngsters made their senior debut in the Gozitan leagues and KO Cup competitions this season on our sister island. With the 1st Division teams, 18 young players were introduced, five for champions Nadur Youngsters who allowed Harry Paulin, Kurt Xuereb, Gilbert Portelli, Jake Attard and Leander Buttigieg to make their first minutes. With Hayden Bonnici, Julian Vella, Denzil Bugeja and Kameni Ngantchop, Xewkija Tigers introduced four players, followed by three each for Ghajnsielem (Decon Attard, Neil Sultana, Gabriel Parnis) and Kercem Ajax (Keith Sciberras, Cleavon Zammit, Tomo Markovic). Oratory Youths gave debut to Andy Micallef and Jayden Abela while Xaghra United gave Jordan Xerri his baptism of fire with the seniors. In the second tier, Zebbug Rovers introduced four youngsters which were Luc Galea, Bernard Camilleri, Jonathan-Paul Portelli and Gabriel Saliba. Gharb Rangers followed suit with three debutants (Steve Gauci, Damien Depasquale and Lukas Cini) while Kyle Xuereb and Gorg Galea were also handed their debut for Sannat Lions and St Lawrence Spurs respectively.

3 – Victoria Hotspurs won the 2nd Division Championship for the third time in their history. The ambitious club, who will play in the MFA Amateur League 2 next season, also won the Gozitan second-tier league campaigns in 1958/59 and 2006/07. Historically, Xaghra remain the club with most 2nd Division titles, nine in total. Seven of these were won by Xaghra United and one each by Xaghra Blue Stars and Xaghra Young Stars. In 1970, both clubs merged into Xaghra United.

6 – Malian striker Boubacar Kanta scored all six goals for Sannat Lions in their 2nd Division league match with St Lawrence Spurs on 2 March, which was a seasonal record number of goals scored in one competitive game in both Gozitan leagues. Four players managed to score four goals in a single competitive match, which are Brian Parada (Xewkija Tigers) in the 1st Division and Wellington Valentim de Souza (Victoria Hotspurs) in the 2nd Division, while Andrew Ofulue (Gharb Rangers) and Donovan Carvalho Ayesller (St Lawrence Spurs) scored a poker in the pre-seasonal 2nd Division Challenge Cup.

11 – With Nadur Youngsters failing to beat Qala Saints in the final of the GFA Cup (1-4), Xewkija Tigers remain the club with most GFA Cup victories, eleven in total. Nadur could have equalled the Tigers as they won ten GFA Cup Finals, with Sannat Lions being the third classified club in that ranking with nine wins. It was Qala’s second GFA Cup victory after winning this prestigious competition for the first time in 2008 after beating neighbours Ghajnsielem on penalties. Qala also won the 2023/24 1st Division Knock Out Cup, which was the first win of the club in this competition.

12 – The Qala Saints were also involved in a dramatic 7-5 extra time victory over Melita in the Preliminary Round of the 23/24 FA Trophy last December at the Mosta Ground. It was only the second time in history that, at least, 12 goals were scored in one Trophy game in Malta. The 14 goals in Zurrieq’s 13-1 victory over Zurrieq in 1995 still stands out, but the Qala Melita game is now ranked second in the list of most goals in a single Trophy match. Five games recorded 11 goals in the 90-year-old history of the FA Trophy.

15 – Nadur Youngsters were crowned as Gozo champions for a record 15th time, consolidating their dominance by winning the title for the third consecutive season. The club has distanced themselves from Victoria Hotspurs who won 13 island titles, with the 2018/19 campaign being their last one. With ten wins, Sannat Lions are the only other club in Gozo in the double figures. Xewkija Tigers won eight leagues, followed by Ghajnsielem (7), Xaghra United (6, including Xaghra Blue Stars and Xaghra Young Stars), Salesian Youths (5, now Oratory Youths), Victoria Athletics (4) and one each for Zebbug Rovers, Kercem Ajax, SK Calypsians, Victoria United (now SKVW), Victoria Stars and Victoria City.

15 – Former Hamrun Spartans, Qormi and Balzan goalkeeper Steve Sultana won the GFA player of the year award and became the 15th player of Nadur Youngsters to get elected with this prestigious prize, more then any other club in Gozo. The very first election, for season 1961/62, was won Peter-Paul Camilleri, who was also at the time a Nadur Youngsters player, with Mario Bonello winning it twice for the Youngsters in 1991 and 1994. In previous editions, eight Ghajnsielem and Victoria Hotspurs players won this prize, followed by Xewkija Tigers with seven winners, Xaghra United (6) Sannat Lions (5), two each by SK Calypsians and Zebbug Rovers and one each by Qala Saints, Calypsian Bosco Youths and the defunct capital clubs of Victoria St Georges and Rabat 1950. Apart from Bonello, also Christian Mercieca, Ferdinando Apap, Mario Azzopardi, Chris Camilleri and the late Raymond Gafa won the award twice.

16 – A remarkable appearance on the last Match Day in the 2nd Division as, after sixteen seasons of inactivity, 47-year-old Teddie Micallef made a late substitute appearance in St Lawrence Spurs’ match against neighbours Gharb Rangers (1-0). It was Micallef’s 165th appearance for his hometown team, with whom he made his senior debut in 1993, aged 16. The defender also played briefly for Xewkija Tigers apart from one appearance for Gozo FC in the Maltese 3rd Division during his active career.

29 – Nigerian striker Andrew Ofulue is the new club Top Scorer of Gharb Rangers. The 32-year-old returned to the club last summer after having spent the 2016/17 campaign already with the Blues, adding another ten goals to his club totals. In these two seasons, and in just 30 matches, he scored 29 goals for the club, taking over Christian Attard’s top position who knocked in 24 for the Rangers between 2011 and 2019.

37 – The most impressive number of goals this season was undoubtedly recorded by Victoria Hotspurs striker Wellington Valentim de Souza. The former Marsaxlokk and Fgura United targetman knocked in no less than 37 goals counting all competitions, more than anyone else in Malta this season at senior level. It was no surprise that, with 22 goals, the Brazilian was crowned 2nd Division Top Scorer and on top of that scored seven in the Challenge Cup, four in the 2nd Division Knock Out Cup and two each in the Amateur Cup and GFA Cup, all that in just 26 games.

70 – It was the 70th season of league football for Xewkija Tigers, who spent 53 of these in the top flight and 17 in the 2nd Division. Their debut season arrived five years after their foundation in 1939, just after the second World War, the 1944/45 campaign in which they finished third from six participants. After three second tier Championships, the Tigers managed to win the Gozitan Championship in 1975, breaking Ghajnsielem’s monopoly of five consecutive island titles. Through the years, Xewkija managed to win seven more top flight championships and of all current 1st Division teams, they have been playing in the top flight longest, since 2009 for the past fifteen seasons without being relegated.

100 – In the 1st Division, 12 players reached their 100th appearance in this category. Four of these were from champions Nadur Youngsters with Kurt Grima, Brandon Said, Marcelo Barbosa and Stefan Cassar. The eight others were Anthony Sultana, Andre Azzopardi, Angelo Brignoli (all three Oratory Youths), Daniel Spiteri, Jason Theuma (both Kercem Ajax), Marlon Mamo (Xaghra United), Kenny Hili (Ghajnsielem) and Christian Mercieca (Qala Saints). Five players reached the same milestone in the 2nd Division, which were Christoph Caruana (Victoria Hotspurs), Daniel Borg (Sannat Lions), Victor-John Saliba (St Lawrence Spurs) and Munxar Falcons duo Emmanuel Galea and Paul Parnis.

100 – Marcelo Barbosa’s first goal on Match Day 1 of the league was his 100th goal in the Gozitan 1st Division. The Brazilian became only the seventh player in history to knock in at least a hundred league goals at top level on our sister-island. The other six are Johnny Camilleri (156), Claudio Antunes Pavlidis ‘Cadu’ (138), Sabri Rais (135), Chris Camilleri (129), Frankie Muscat (125) and Dione Lautier with a total of 114 to flight goals. Barbosa went on to add another 20 league goals during this season to bring his grand total league totals on 120, 109 of these for Nadur and eleven for Gharb Rangers. With these 21 goals, Barbosa was crowned as 1st Division Top Scorer for the third consecutive time in Gozo. Still a long way to go to come even close to Frankie Muscat’s remarkable record as the former Sannat Lions striker finished as 1st Division Top Scorer for eight consecutive seasons between 1975 and 1982. Elton da Silva scored 30 goals for Victoria Hotspurs during season 2018/19, with these 30 still being the record for most goals during a single league campaign.

100 – Five 1st Division players made their 100th club appearance during the season, which are Nadur Youngsters players Stefan Cassar and Gennaro Hili, Martin Buttigieg (Qala Saints), Emerson Zammit (SKVW) and Ghajnsielem goalkeeper Luke Buttigieg. In the 2nd Division, Eric Gauci did the same for Sannat Lions.

100 – Victoria Hotspurs midfielder Joseph-George Vella managed to score his 100th official senior career goal during the season. The much-travelled player, aged 32, scored twice in a 4-2 victory over St Lawrence Spurs in the Preliminary round of the 2nd Division Knock Out Cup, two late goals with the second one being his 100th. Vella made his senior debut with Xaghra United in 2006 and through his career also donned the jerseys of SKVW, Nadur Youngsters, Ghajnsielem and Xewkija Tigers. He added two more goals at the very end of the 23/24 campaign, bringing his grand total on 102, most of these in the 1st Division (57). Vella made in total 370 appearances in all competitions in Gozo, including two in the international scene for the Gozo Region in the UEFA Regions Cup in 2012.

140 – On 26 February, in the league match against SKVW (3-1), Marcelo Barbosa broke Anthony Portelli’s all-time goal record for Nadur Youngsters. While Portelli knocked in 139 for the Youngsters between 1997 and 2014, it was the Brazilian’s 140th goal for Nadur in all competitions. The 32-year-old added another seven competitive goals in the remaining part of the season and has now scored 147 club goals in just 143 games, an incredible ratio of more than one goal per game. Barbosa started his Malta career with Gharb Rangers in 2017 and briefly played for Hamrun Spartans at the start of the 20/21 Maltese Premier League campaign.

200 – Veteran St Lawrence Spurs defender Daniel Micallef became the second player in history to play 200 games in the Gozitan 2nd Division. This remarkable milestone was sealed with his appearance against Sannat Lions on 6 January (2-3). Micallef, who celebrated his 38th birthday last February, played all these games for his one and only club, St Lawrence Spurs, where he made his senior debut way back in 2002. Towards the end of the season, he added nine more games at this level, bringing his grand total on 209 second tier games, just five matches behind Christopher Gafa (Zebbug Rovers), who tops this ranking in the 2nd Division with 214 appearances. With 329 matches, counting all competitions, Daniel Micallef is as well the player with most St Lawrence Spurs senior appearances.

200 – On 24 February, in their odd goal in three victory over Zebbug Rovers, Daniel Borg made his 200th club appearance for Sannat Lions. The now 27-year-old made his debut for the Lions in a 1st Division game on 19 February 2012 against Xaghra United (0-1), aged just 14, and remained faithful to Sannat Lions throughout his career. Borg has now played 208 games for the club, most of these in the 2nd Division (103), but also 70 in the 1st Division, 14 in the GFA Cup, 5 in the FA Trophy and sixteen in other knock out competitions like Division Two Knock Out Cup (7), Challenge Cup (5), Division One Knock Out Cup (3) and one in the Amateur Cup. Another truly remarkable piece of club loyalty.

300 – Rodney Buttigieg played his 300th match for Xewkija Tigers during the season and became only the second player to reach his magical figure for the club. The 32-year-old striker made his debut for the club in 2006 aged 15 and apart from two short spells with Victoria Hotspurs and Ghajnsielem, always remained loyal to the club. With 441 club appearances, the undisputed number one for the Tigers is still Joseph Cefai, who hung up his boots in 2021, a club record that will be indeed hard to beat.

700 – On 8th March, Chris Camilleri became the very first Maltese to reach 700 domestic appearances in local football, an incredible milestone for the 44-year-old midfielder. Camilleri made over a hundred appearances in the Premier Division for Valletta, Hibernians, Msida St Joseph, Pieta’ Hotspurs and Marsaxlokk, and returned to his first love Xaghra United before the start of the season, finishing on a satisfying fifth place in the final standings. He made his senior debut in 1994 as a 15-year-old with his hometown team and during his 30-year career in also donned the jerseys of Xewkija Tigers, Nadur Youngsters, Sannat Lions, Kercem Ajax, Ghajnsielem and Victoria Hotspurs, apart from his adventures with Gozo FC in the Maltese leagues. With right now 706 official appearances to his tally, Camilleri has also entered an exclusive list of just eight Maltese players with over 700 senior career games (including international games). This particular ranking is headed by Michael Mifsud (803 total appearances), followed by Gilbert Agius (778), Roderick Briffa (761), Brian Said (751), Mario Muscat (740), Jeffrey Chetcuti (729) and Jamie Pace (712).

800 – Angelo Brignoli’s own goal on 23 February in the 1st Division league match against Qala Saints (1-3) was accidentally Qala’s 800th league goal scored ever since Qala’s debut in the Gozitan leagues for season 1968/69.

900 – Ghajnsielem’s 1-0 victory over Xewkija Tigers on 15 March was the club’s 900th league match (all divisions) since their inception in 1936. The Blacks took part for the first time in the GFA league as Ghajnsielem Rovers during the 1938/39 campaign and have been faithful participants ever since, with as absolute highlight the five consecutive League Championships in the golden years between 1970 and 1974. They added two more titles in 2005 and 2014, apart from six second tier Championships.

900 – Harry Paulin’s goal for Zebbug against Sannat Lions on 24 February (1-2) was the 900th league goal scored for Zebbug Rovers ever since their very first season 1976/77 (excluding Deciders and Play-Offs) in Gozitan football. Mark Dingli’s winner for St Lawrence Spurs against neighbours Gharb Rangers (1-0) was also St Lawrence’s 900th league goal. The Spurs have been around a bit longer then Zebbug (1968), but were inactive between 1972 and 1985.

Images copyright by Anthony Cassar