One-On-One: Frankie Grima
Your questions answered by….
Interview Joe Attard, Portraits Andrew Grima, Archive photos by F. Grima & Vallettafc.net
What has football meant to you?
George Borg –Gzira
Before playing football, I had started in athletics, training for something like 6 to7 hrs a day, every day of the week. I was introduced to football due to my height being suitable for a goalkeeping position, while watching some friends playing street football in Marsa. As things went, football helped me a lot in building my character, which in turn helped me make so many friends.
Frankie GrimaWhen did you join Valletta?
Vince Bartolo –Marsa
I started playing football at a very young age. In fact, at the age of 14, I was already playing regular football as a goalkeeper with Marsa in what was then the First Division (now Premier). If I’m not mistaken, to this day, I am still the youngest ever footballer to play in any top division in Malta; then, at 18 I joined Valletta. I can clearly remember when Carlo Seychell, Mr Azzopardi, and Mr Brown, came to see me while I was having a drink at Mr Fox and in front of a packed bar Carlo told me these three words “Frankie, int ghal maghna! (Frankie, you have to join us). The rest, of course, is history.
Any special reason why you became a goalkeeper?
Joe Attard –Gzira
Yes, as I said earlier, my height had a lot to do with it. After street football, I was thrown into the thick of it while watching the Marsa Youth Centre Football team play a match in Dingli. At some point, their goalie got injured and hey presto, I suddenly became the Marsa Youth Centre
Football team goalkeeper. How’s that for a baptism of fire?
Was there a particular save that was a turning point in a competitive match?
Antoine Zahra – Rabat
Having won the Championship three times and the FA Trophy twice with Valletta, there were inevitably many great saves that helped bring the Championship & FA Trophy back to the City. My style was not one of spectacular saves but of good positioning in the box. In fact, I always used to hate getting dirty having to dive to make a save! I had total control of my box, which used to make my game very simple for me and my colleagues, especially with my good interception of crosses in the box, which was always my Forte.
Goalkeeping errors can be very costly for a team. Can you remember one that you want to forget?
Karl Galea – San Gwann
That’s a sore point I wish you hadn’t brought up as it pains me to this very day. On this particular occasion, I misjudged an easy shot from halfway pitch by Edwin Farrugia of Floriana and the next moment I was picking the ball from the back of the net. I still vividly remember this match vs. Floriana and even get bad dreams due to that goal. I often see this ball coming slowly towards my feet, as I shout to Maxi Magro that I’m giving him the ball, only to see it to roll slowly past my feet and into the net. Arghh…please don’t mention this to me again!
Who would you have spoken to after the match on a goal like this?
Anthony Agius – Valletta
You’re pushing your luck Anthony!…joking apart, during my footballing days I had two of the best coaches on the Island in Johnny Calleja and Lolly Debattista . I had total respect for both these two coaches, who helped me a lot through my career. Another coach who proved decisive to my career was Guzi Alamango who was brought in to train me when at Marsa at the tender age of 13. At Valletta I had my personal trainer and friend; Johnny Curmi. Johnny was always there for me, in both the glory and bad days. So as you see, luckily, I always had quite a few people to discuss such moments with.
How would you describe the football situation in Malta at present? Do you still go to the stadium to watch some matches?
Andrew Borg – St. Julians
Since my footballing days, the game has improved so much. I totally disagree with those who say that the situation was better in my days. To-day, football is much more of a team game; besides, there is so much technique, tactics, training and organisation. In my days it was mostly individuals who stole the show. Yes, when it comes to individual players, I have to admit that they were more abundant before, with players such as Louis Arpa, Ray Mundu, Guzi Xuereb, Eddie Theobald and so many more who graced and gave so much joy to our game. Regarding my presence at the Stadium, yes, I still go to watch Valletta play, especially in the final matches, as I particularly like the Valletta support in these last games. They bring me so much special memories. For me Valletta supporters will always be the best, the ultimate!
Who are the best players you ever played with?
John Borg – Attard
Carlo Seychell was certainly a born leader. He was a great player who always used to give me that extra boost before a match, when I used to be in a terrible state with my nerves. Being the no one goalkeeper of Valletta was never any easy job, be it then or now! Valletta always produced some of the best goalkeepers on the Island, such as Taylor, Debono, Cini, Mifsud, and today’s goalies in Hogg and Vella. Putting on that shirt was always a proud moment for me and my eternal fear was not to let our supporters down. Another great player I must not forget to mention is Robert Gatt. A great goalie I used to follow assiduously every time he played.
Was there a particular striker that was hard to be up against?
Tony Borg – Msida
The Floriana forwards especially were all good players in my days. George Xuereb used to put me off as he was a very hard and robust player in the box, but players to watch out for were Guzi Xuereb of Hibs and Louis Arpa of Floriana, they were two really great players, hard to predict.
Frank, Obviously I am an avid Valletta F.C. supporter, but also a Leeds United supporter of +35years. The main highlights of both the teams I support are the Valletta – Leeds United UEFA Cup matches of October 1979. I still look at my Leeds match day programmes of that season and view the picture of you saving a penalty in our away match. I also remember a particular UK paper’s title:”Great Grima Grabs Glory”. What do your remember and what are your feelings of both those matches?
Eugene Schembri – Attard
That was a memorable match for me that I really enjoyed playing. Remembering these matches I can still vividly relive the rumblings in my belly, especially before the away match. In fact, in the Leeds newspapers prior to our match, the headline of the day was “Leeds to Grab 17 goals to set a World Record”. This, to me, was a big challenge, but can anyone imagine conceding a goal after only 30 seconds?! Leeds’ fastest ever European goal, scored against me! To add insult to injury, the player who scored the first goal, Curtis, came to pick the ball from the net bragging that this was to be the first out of six he was going to score. I remember telling him ‘let the show begin’. On that day my performance was honestly spellbinding. The Leeds papers likened my performance on the night to one out of a Superman comic book. One moment I shall never forget in that match was when, coming out for the second half to defend my goal, the Leeds supporters behind my goal gave me a fantastic standing ovation. These are priceless moments in football and in life.
After your superb Match vs. Leeds, did Leeds inquire about your services?
I remember that Leeds came to talk to me after the match and asked me if I wanted to stay at Leeds. Can you imagine my feelings, being offered a contract with Leeds, but I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the Valletta Committee of that day tackled the issue, as they of course did not want to loose my services to Leeds. Leeds kept asking for my services even months after we came back to Malta, but to my bitter disappointment all correspondence Leeds sent to the then Committee never got answered back! This I came to know about a year ago through a former committee member from those days, who confessed to me the entire Leeds story. I was 19 at the time and Leeds offered 50,000 Maltese Lira for a trial period, bearing in mind that my transfer fee from Marsa to Valletta was that of about 2,000 Maltese liri!
What would you suggest to that Goalkeeper who looses his confidence after a terrible mistake?
Joe Borg – Msida
Goalkeeper’s mistakes are costly for a team, but the experience of playing regularly is what gives so much confidence to a goalkeeper. I learned this through my playing days. I made mistakes and I learned from my mistakes. The position of a goalkeeper is one of the most psychologically demanding on the soccer field. Mistakes are final. The glory is usually reserved for the players at the other end of the field. It’s not a position that everybody can handle. You can’t be stupid to play in goal, but perhaps you must be a little crazy! You must believe you are the best if you want play at your best.
Norman Darmanin Demajo (MFA President) was a colleague of yours during your playing days. Your opinion on Mr. Darmanin Demajo please?
George Borg – Pieta
DeDe. used to be able to assess the dressing room situation well before entering the room, especially before a match against Floriana. I remember he was always the last player to enter the dressing room, and then, while everyone was really tensed up, he used to crack a good joke and send our dressing room into spasms of laughter. Dennis Fenech, like Norman, was also a good dressing room motivator. I wish Norman all the best of luck and success in his new post.
Did you ever play for Malta?
To my great disappointment I only played once, against Tunisia B, but this was because I was suspended for life by our association. The suspension came after I had gone out with the boys for a drink when we went to play in Tunis in 79. The MFA officials came to know that we had sneaked out of the hotel and eventually summoned us all up for a disciplinary hearing. When back in Malta, all the players were fined 24 Maltese liri each by the association, whereas I got suspended for life! That’s right, suspended for life! Not to play for my country ever again. This was by far my biggest disappointment to date in my footballing career. This suspension still hurts till this day. I remember that I took a decision to retire from football at the age of 20 following this decision, then eventually came back after a year but finally stopped playing at the age of 25, having lost all interest in the game. I used to take my football very seriously, in fact, before a match, I used to lock myself up at home from Friday and not go out at all so as to prepare mentally for the match. Even when abroad with Valletta, I used to lock myself up in my hotel room to prepare for the match. Yes, I used to take my football very seriously… then suddenly this dreadful suspension!
Your opinion of the present Valletta Team?
Paul Grech – Valletta
We ask you to Email your questions (as many as you like) to firstname.lastname@example.org by not later than Friday 29th April. Please include Name, Town, membership no or id card if non member. Coming up next Nicky Saliba.