A League of Their Own

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January 31st 2016
Published: February 11th 2016
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Gozo has moved on in the world. The sign "Lidl Welcomes You to Gozo" has gone. The threat of Aldi landing on the island has apparently meant a downsizing in the marketing budgets. We alighted a seriously full bus at the ferry port en route to Gozo. The departure hall was well populated, even on a breezy day in January. What would it be like in the height of summer? A small sign on the counter read, "Please pay for your return journey on Gozo". The return fare remains a competitive 4.65 Euros. In amongst the waiting throng, a number of touts were busy promoting the double decker all day hop on, hop off bus on the Gozo side. The weekly bus pass is now valid on the Gozo system, so there appeared to be few takers.

We boarded. The sun deck did have some sun, but the ferry headed into a fairly stiff breeze. The sea sick sufferers were probably a bit apprehensive at this point. The car door closed and we set off. The ship stayed stable, as it proceeded into the channel. The Python had rejected the Hibernians opportunity and had accompanied us to Gozo. He pointed out the Blue Lagoon, as we passed Comino. It was blue. We braved the wind at the front of the ship for a while, before sheltering near the stern.

The port at Mgarr was busy. A queue of cars waited to board the incoming ferry. We made a speedy exit for the bus. It was in vain, as the bus waited patiently for the aforementioned cars to board. We eventually set off towards Victoria and the bus climbed the hill out of Mgarr. After 10 minutes or so, I spied the objective of the day. The Gozo Stadium! Gozo has it's own league, that is played as a separate entity from the Maltese island. Divisions 1 and 2 are played out most weeks at the few grounds on the island, although the teams get to pit their wits against their Maltese friends in some of the Cup competitions. The bus continued past Lidl and climbed towards Victoria. A couple of footballers were walking towards the Gozo Stadium. How the other half live? There was no luxury coach or Porsche to transport the top stars. Walk and carry your own bags! I would later recognise them as 2 players from SK Victoria Wanderers. They are perhaps not called Wanderers for nothing!

The Gozo Bus Station hasn't had the makeover that it's Maltese cousin has had. We alighted and walked up hill towards the centre of Victoria. We had just missed a heavy shower. The seats of the cafes in Piazza Indipendenza were largely empty. The wet seats were putting off perspective customers, including ourselves. We settled in an outdoor covered seating area further up the road in Savina Square. We waited for our coffees. An old couple walked past, possibly on their way back from Church. He seemed intent on a Sunday lunchtime pint. She seemed intent on another plan. He closed his ears and went anyway! She probably muttered the Maltese equivalent of your dinner will be in the dog, if your not back in time - but we will never know.

We savoured the coffees and wandered up the hill towards the Citadel fortress. The whole area has had and is still in the process of having a complete makeover. It remains a work in progress. There are plenty of walls to walk round and the views are panoramic across to all parts of the island. It was a Sunday, so it wasn't a great surprise that nothing much else was open. However, it could also have been a weekday and it is also doubtful whether much more would be available to distract you. The population of Gozo is only 37,000 in total, of which 6,000 or so live in Victoria. It all looks small from this vantage point, compared to the urban sprawl of east coast Malta. A classic jumping photograph was commissioned with a backdrop of the Citadel. You can see the results in the photographs, although it is fair to say that not all grasped the full instructions. There was no further time to waste, as the first of our matches was due to kick off at 1300 hours. We grabbed a snack en route to the Bus Station. Alas we were more successful with the former than the bus - a wait of at least 20 minutes. It was easier to walk. If it was good enough for the footballers of Victoria Wanderers, it could be good enough for us. Fortunately, a map was in hand - find Lidl and it is next on the left. The only sight of note was the Gozo Juventus Club. Juventus had played on Saturday night, so as with other things - it was closed!

The Gozo Football League. It would be a new League for us, so I wasn't particularly what the standard was or indeed how big the crowd. I was somewhat surprised to see cars galore outside the Stadium. Kick off had been missed and crowd noise filtered outside. We approached the first turnstiles and paid our cash. 4.5 Euros for both matches. "This is not your Premier League", announced Mrs Turnstile Lady. She was right, both on price and the fact that there was a lot more commitment going on in here. On a small island, Monday could be a tricky day if you hadn't given your all at the weekend. Oh, for the good old days pre-Premier League! Xewkija Tigers were the locals. The locality of the Stadium is Xewkija and they had the lion's share of the crowd. Victoria Wanderers were struggling for form and the Tigers got stuck in. The game was best described as competitive and fractious. There are few teams in the League, so there were a number of grudges going on from recent weeks. A dodgy tackle here and there one week and the wait for retribution is short. These extended to the sidelines. There were issues beyond the players - the coaches argued, the crowd argued and the ref and linesman were not destined to get many Christmas cards. The breakthrough came near to half time. There were no further goals, but a correctly disallowed goal in the final moments of normal time provoked mass hysteria and anger amongst Tigers fans and a shouting match in the technical zone. The players from the next match had to continue the warm up routine behind the goal, as added time escalated and the kick off was delayed.

The Gozo Stadium, formerly known as the Silver Jubilee Ground, has the only grass pitch on the island. It was built in 1936, but has had a revamp in recent years as the Gozo FA aspires to hold international matches for the Malta national team. A UEFA youth tournament is the current high point of achievement to date. It approximately holds 1,644 people. It is divided into two sides: the Xewkija side and the Xaghra side. There was nobody apart from 2 large banner flags for the clubs in the Xaghra side today. The most striking was written in Maltese, but apparently said "Force Xewjika Tigers. We are Behind You". This was removed after Game 1, in favour of a Kercem Ajax banner. The Oratory Youths got a full afternoon of exposure. Victoria Wanderers it seems do not have a banner department. The Xewkija side is the usual format from Malta - segregated enclosure area, plexi-glass to keep the hordes off the pitch and the VIP section in the middle. The changing rooms were behind the "Lidl" end. The majority of the crowd were in the Xewkija section. The plexi-glass was quite low pitchside behind the dugouts and I found a small section behind the dugouts to take unobstructed photographs. Mr Security Man had other ideas. "You can't stand here, it is forbidden" he muttered. He retreated, the crime of the century having being satisfactorily sorted. It kept him in a job.

In the next match, Kercem beat Oratory Youths 2-1. An own goal on the 23rd minute paved the way for Kercem, as the full back rekindled memories of when he was a schoolboy striker and buried a cross beautifully in the bottom corner. The one way traffic continued and Kercem doubled the score on the 39th. The Oratory Youths - what a great name - were anything but! They were not vocal or in throws of adolesence. A lucky break gave them a way back into the match a few moments later. However, a certain Anderson Ribeiro had been watching too many TV penalties and chipped it straight down the middle of the goal. The keeper was long gone in another direction. Alas, the ball floated harmlessly over the crossbar. The voices of descent were muttering by this stage. The temperature was down and the Other Halves were cold. It was pretty nippy I suppose, although the sight of a few Victoria Wanderers players in gloves in the 1st game had influenced matters. We failed to see the fightback and were on the ferry back to Malta, when the Youths pulled one back.

Despite a Curious Incident of a Python on a Gozo Ferry car deck, we were back in Sliema in time to go out with the Doctor Barrington party. The main group stayed in a Sliema pub and I took the Other Half for a taste of the pampas at Little Argentina.

Appendix 1 Sunday 24 January 2016 @ 1300 Hours Venue: Gozo Stadium, Xewkija, Gozo

Attendance: Est 250

Xewkija Tigers 1 - 0 SK Victoria Wanderers

Scorers: 1 - 0 Bogdanovic (Xewkija Tigers) 41

Appendix 2 Sunday 24 January 2016 @ 1515 Hours Venue: Gozo Stadium, Xewkija, Gozo

Attendance: Est 125

Oratory Youths FC 1 - 2 Kercem Ajax

Scorers: 0 - 1 Own Goal (Kercem Ajax) 23, 0 - 2 Attard (Kercem Ajax), 1 - 2 Gauci (Oratory Youths)

# Groundhopping Gozo // Gozo Stadium : Xewkija Tigers v SK Victoria Wanderers & Oratory Youths v Kercem Ajax

Additional photos below
Photos: 48, Displayed: 29


Xewkija Tigers 1 SK Victoria Wanderers 0Xewkija Tigers 1 SK Victoria Wanderers 0
Xewkija Tigers 1 SK Victoria Wanderers 0

Cold enough for gloves apparently........... don't expect to see him the Northern League anytime soon!

Astra Theatre

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