Grima shines at Elland Road Published on: 04-12-2015
The 1979-80 football season was an exceptional one at least as far as Malta’s participation in Europe was concerned.
Valletta made a pot of money from their UEFA Cup tie with Leeds United while Hibernians and Sliema Wanderers registered prestigious victories in the other two competitions.
In the meantime, the season commenced on September 1, 1979 with the Independence Cup encounter between Valletta and Sliema.
Valletta were much better prepared than the Blues at this early stage of the season and deserved to win the game if only by the minimum of margins.
With Leli Farrugia and Dennis Fenech dominating midfield, City took the lead early in the first half when Charlie Sciberras fumbled a harmless-looking cross and Nardu Farrugia converted the easiest of chances.
Encouraged by this goal, Valletta gained a firm grip on the game.
They created a number of chances but in the dying minutes of the game, it was Sliema who nearly scored the equaliser.
Nardu Farrugia played the ball with his hand in the box but J.J. Aquilina hit the upright from the spot-kick.
In the next game, Sliema beat Hibernians 1-0 but Valletta made sure of winning the first honour of the season with a rather comfortable 2-0 victory over the Paolites.
An early goal by Manwel Seychell made it difficult for Hibs to recover against a well-organised City defence.
Hibs shared the exchanges with Valletta for the rest of the game but a goal by Nardu Farrugia two minutes from the end settled the issue in favour of the Citizens.
When Valletta met Leeds on September 19, 1979, memories were revived of the Empire Stadium’s days of glory.
A crowd of over 18,000 supporters filled every nook and corner of the old ground. Before the match, the City fans made merry, but once the game was started, it was a no-contest.
Valletta’s resistance lasted for only 13 minutes and when Arthur Graham opened the scoring for the visitors, it was all over.
Three other goals followed, as the professionals once again proved to be too strong for the amateurs.
A very dull atmosphere reigned in the City dressing room after the game. No one was more disappointed than coach John Calleja.
He admitted that he never expected such a heavy defeat.
He said that Leeds played exceedingly well and that Valletta had no answer to their high balls and to their brilliant players on the flanks.
Nevertheless, one had to admit that Valletta never threw in the towel and towards the end, they came very near to scoring a consolation goal.
Record bid foiled
The return match at Elland Road was seen as an occasion for Leeds to set up a goal-scoring record.
The critics, however, had reckoned without goalkeeper Frankie Grima. In the return leg, he took on the Leeds attack single-handedly.
In an embarrassingly one-sided match, Grima earned the admiration of the Leeds crowd with a streak of first-class saves.
Leeds were determined to beat their record 11-0 aggregate victory in Europe, but their bid was foiled by the gallant City goalkeeper.
Grima’s acrobatics left Leeds gasping. He saved a penalty and, with dives and leaps straight out of a Superman movie, he stopped headers and shots from every angle.
Curtis put Leeds ahead in the early stages and things looked bleak for Valletta but, despite being forced to defend for long stretches, their resistance did not crumble.
Valletta’s morale increased ten-fold when Grima stopped a penalty and from then on they were determined not to let the English team turn the game into a debacle.
Leeds eventually won 3-0 with the other two goals coming from Roy Harkin and Paul Hart in the second half.
Source - Times of Malta
Source - Times of Malta