Ask any football fan who they think the best players the game has ever seen are, and chances are their list will include Sir Bobby Charlton. But did you know that the English legend had actually once played for a Maltese club?
Playing for Manchester United in a grand total of 758 games – and eventually scoring 249 goals for the club – Charlton has one of those unmatched legacies that go unchallenged for decades on end. A member of the England team that won its only FIFA World Cup in 1966 (the same year that saw him win the Ballon d’Or), Sir Charlton is to this day a statistical force to be reckoned with on both a club and national scale, beaten only by fellow United alumnus Wayne Rooney.
But around a decade after all of that, Charlton found himself in Malta, donning the unmistakable green shirt of Floriana FC.
On Wednesday 4th June 1980, Floriana played against then-only-two-year-old Wigan Athletic as part of the Maltese club’s 80th anniversary.
It was here that some changes were made for the special match; changes which would see Valletta skipper Carlo Seychell being invited to play for Wigan Athletic… and 42-year-old Bobby Charlton playing for Floriana.
This morning, interest in the historic match – which some local football fans fondly remember to this day – was reignited thanks to a photo shared on Facebook by Charles Buttigieg, who regularly posts nostalgic footballing moments surrounding Floriana.
Thanks to some serious archiving, we actually have a lot of information about this special match… which, back then, cost “25 cents for adults and 15 cents for boys”.
In a post shared a year ago by Malta and International Football Collection, more details on the historic match were immortalised.
At 6pm at the Gżira Stadium, the stage was set for a very different kind of exhibition match.
Wigan, then a fourth-division club, faced Floriana with only the doors of the Enclosure being open. Right before the big match, there was another friendly between Malta Hilton and British side Brumby Hotel, which kicked off at 4:15pm.
Interestingly enough, this was to be Floriana keeper’s Gino Gauci first-ever match with the senior team, after having replaced regular goalie Robert Gatt. And this wasn’t the only major change, either; Floriana had apparently left four first-team players on the bench… even though Edwin Farrugia, his nephew Ray Farrugia and Tony Borg all came in as substitutes in the second half.
Eventually, Floriana would go on to win 2-1.
Wigan took the lead with barely five minutes on the clock thanks to an own-goal by Floriana, but the Greens ended up scoring two goals five minutes before the end of the first half and five minutes before the end of the match to take the win.
Malta & International Football Collection’s Facebook post went on to detail even more interesting facts surrounding the day, such as the fact that Charlton had stayed at the Dragonara Hotel during his stay on the island.
And while having a legend like Sir Bobby Charlton on a Maltese pitch must’ve been an incredibly emotional sight, this was actually the star’s third appearance on our island.
The first time was back in 1961, when Manchester United had emerged victorious against an MFA Selection with a score of 2-0. The second time, however, was an even tighter one, with the Red Devils being held to a goalless draw against Hibernians in a Champions’ Cup match.
Fast forward 40 more years, and Floriana are still a footballing force to be reckoned with.
Just last year, in fact, the greens had taken to the popular Fosos to celebrate their Maltese Premier League victory… their 26th title and first since 1993.
Tag a Floriana fan… and a Manchester United one!