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Freddie Debono

Freddie Debono

Born in Sliema on January 21, 1944, he joined nearby Melita FC in 1958. He made his league debut on January 18, 1959 in the 3-0 victory against Senglea Athletics, at least insofar as it could be ascertained as the records for that period are incomplete.

Although barely 15, he was already showing his great potential as a goalkeeper. Melita, however, were well served in the goalkeeper position in those days. So in the following season, he joined Rabat FC in the Second Division as an understudy of their regular goalkeepers Micallef and Charlie Zerafa.

Freddie DebonoDebono played his first game for the ‘Magpies’ on January 31, 1960 against Zebbug Rangers. In his first season with Rabat, he ha his first taste of success when Rabat beat St Patrick’s 1-0 in the Third Division Cup Final.

Debono stayed with Rabat for only two seasons before joining Sliema Wanderers in 1961 s their third goalkeeper behind Victor Scerri and Raymond Cosby. Both goalkeepers were in the twilight of their careers and Debono did not have long to wait before he could step in the first team.

He made his debut for the Wanderers on January 1, 1962 against Hibernians. Victor Scerri retired and Raymond Cosby soon followed suit, leaving the way clear for Debono to become the Wanderers’ number one goalkeeper.

Between 1964 and 1966, he won three successive championships with the Blues and established himself as the number one reserve for Hibernians’ goalkeeper Freddie Mizzi in the national team. The five-season he spent with Sliema Wanderers were crammed with glory but Debono’s restless spirit refused to let him rest on his laurels. In 1967-68, he embarked on an adventure that threatened to disrupt his career. He was one of the four players who were lured to the United States at the time when attempts were being made to establish football there. But Debono returned to Malta together with Cocks and Aquilina after only one season.

On his return, Debono was expected to rejoin Sliema Wanderers but controversial as ever, he signed instead for Hibernians FC. The Paolities still had Freddie Mizzi guarding their posts but there were some differences between Hibs and their regular goalkeeper.

Whatever the reason, Debono stepped in Mizzi’s boots but when the latter mended his differences with the club, Debono found himself on the sideline. It was obvious he had made a mistake when he went to Paola. In the three-season he stayed with Hibernians, he made only 12 first league appearances.

In 1971-72, after a whole season of inactivity, he was transferred to Valletta FC. This was the start of another golden period for Debono. He settled down well in Valletta helping the team to win six major honours in seven eventful seasons.

In 1972-73, Freddie Debono became the first goalkeeper and for a long time the only goalkeeper – to win the Footballer of the Year award. This distinctive honour had eluded many fine goalkeepers before. Freddie Mizzi, to give just one example, was finalist five times for the award but he was passed over every time.

In 1974-75, Debono had the distinction of winning the FA Trophy, the Scicluna Cup and the Independence Cup in the same season, conceding only one goal in the process. In the league, however, he lost a number of important matches through injury. This was probably the reason why Valletta had to surrender the championship to their neighbours Floriana.

Debono continued playing up to the start of the 1977-78 season. By now he had gained weight considerably and although still quite capable of guarding the Citizens’ fort, he had lost much of his natural agility. Moreover, Valletta had two able goalkeepers ready to take over. Frankie Grima and Raymond Mifsud were both future internationals.

It, therefore, seemed to be a good time for him to retire. Debono was determined to go out with a flourish. In his last match for Valletta, he guided the team to victory in the FA Trophy final against Floriana.

(Carmel Baldacchino)

Freddie Debono