Malta Football Association
‘Terrific’ Malta run Austria close in landmark 1957 game
Feb 24, 2017
Posted in:
National Team

“Those Malta players were terrific. The result was no fluke and, in fact, it might well have been a win for Malta had the ball run kindly.”

This excerpt, taken from the Times of Malta report of the Malta-Austria game on February 24, 1957, written by the late Stanley Clews, perfectly sums up the outstanding performance of our national team on a momentous day in the history of Maltese football.

60 years ago to the day, Malta made its official debut in international football in a friendly match against what was then a formidable Austria in front of a capacity crowd of more than 20,000 exuberant fans at the Empire Stadium.


News that the Malta Football Association had accepted a request from its Austrian counterpart to play a friendly match against their ‘B’ team, had captured the imagination of the Maltese sporting public.


The prestige of the occasion rose by several notches when the Austrian FA informed the MFA that they were sending their national ‘A’ team for the friendly as part of their preparations for their forthcoming encounter with Germany, on March 6 in Munich.


The gulf in class and experience between the Austrian and Maltese teams triggered a wave of scepticism as many anticipated a drubbing for the home side, then under the guidance of Joe Griffiths who had called up a squad of 16 players to train for the game.


Griffiths’ team selection intrigued local football followers in the build-up to the game to the point that the daily newspaper il-Berqa published a series of line-ups as suggested by some of its readers.

Cometh the day, Austria fielded a strong team featuring the likes of Leopold Barnschandt, Karl Koller, Theodore Wagner, Karl Stotz, Paul Halla and Walter Hummer who were part of the squad that finished third in the 1954 World Cup held in Switzerland.


Malta’s starting formation was largely drawn from two clubs, Sliema Wanderers and Floriana, with defender Joe Cilia, then on the books of Valletta, the only player outside the Old Firm duo in the first team.


Italian referee Vincenzo Orlandini led the two teams out of the tunnel in an electric atmosphere.


The Austrians dictated the pace from the outset and took the lead after just 15 minutes when Cilia and Joe Bonnici tried to close down Halla but in so doing, the ball came off Bonnici and rolled past the helpless Victor Scerri in Malta’s goal.


The first half ended with Austria leading 1-0 but Malta raised their game after the change of ends. Their pressure appeared to unsettle the Austrians but the latter’s experience came to the fore as they profited from the hosts’ failure to equalise and scored two quick goals, through Theodor Wagner, on 72 minutes, and Walter Haummer eight minutes later.


The home crowd’s spirits sank amid fears of a humiliating defeat but the unthinkable happened in the closing stages.


With three minutes remaining, Tony Cauchi pulled one back for Malta after receiving from Sammy Nicholl who had outfoxed Stotz and Ignaz Pusnik.


The delirium in the stands increased when, in the dying seconds, Sammy Nicholl made it 3-2 after good work by George Jones who had come on for Ninu Calleja.


Energised by their brave reaction and the roarous support of the fans, Malta continued to press forward but were unlucky not to equalise as Lolly Borg’s effort came off the crossbar.


At the final whistle, the ecstatic Maltese fans saluted their heroes who had made them and the whole nation proud on a red-letter day for local football.

Malta: Victor Scerri (Sliema W.); Joe Bonnici (Sliema W.); Lolly Debattista (Floriana); Ninu Calleja (Sliema Wanderers) – (George Jones, Ħamrun Spartans); Joe Cilia (Valletta); Joe Cini (Floriana); Lolly Borg (Floriana); Salvinu Schembri (Sliema Wanderers); Tony Cauchi (Floriana); Sammy Nicholl (Sliema Wanderers); Pullu Demanuele (Floriana).


Austria: Bruno Engelmeier (First Vienna), Ignaz Pusnik (SC Kapfenberg), Leopold Barschand (Wiener SC), Ernest Kozlicek (Wacker SK), Karl Stotz (Wien), Karl Koller (First Vienna), Paul Halla (SK Rapid Vienna), Erick Hoff (Wiener SC) (Johann Buzek – Wiener SC), Theodor Wagner (Wacker SK), Paul Kozlicek (Wacker SK), Walter Haummer (Wacker SK)


Referee: Vincenzo Orlandini (Italy).


Linesmen: Joe Galea, RMA (Malta), Major Frederick B. Upfold, REME (England).

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