The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

The Story of Victor Scerri

Malta Independent Tuesday, 22 March 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Former Melita, Sliema and Malta goalkeeper Victor Scerri has given 66 years of his life to football

It is not easy to find a sportsman of the calibre of former Melita, Sliema and Malta goalkeeper VICTOR SCERRI. He is now 77 years old and retired, but only did so after dedicating 66 of those years to the game of football which he loved since his childhood. In this interview, Scerri tells Henry Brincat how he started playing the game and later became a qualified coach and the national coach. He finished his career as the chairman of the Sliema Wanderers nursery, after having been head coach of the same nursery since 1993

Victor Scerri must surely be remembered by most local football followers, especially by Sliema Wanderers fans who still relish the glorious days of local football in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Then Victor used to grace the Gzira Stadium and enthrall the large crowds with some high-level performances, despite having to play on that hard sandy surface.

As a youngster I still recall those days when Scerri used to be the main protagonist, especially when Sliema won an important match or the final of a competition. He was referred to as the “towering goalie”, because of his height.

Scerri said he had been lured to the game at school, but when he was 10 years old, a certain Baldas Calleja had taken him to the cellar of that gentle old Maltese football historian, Gianni Bencini, in Rudolph Street, Sliema.

“It was there that I started my career with Melita. Later, because of an MFA rule banning two teams from the same town playing in the league, Melita moved to Villa St Ignatius in Old College Street, where they still have their premises today,” he said.

Scerri stayed at Melita till 1949, that is, after helping the club win the third and second division championships, and also helping them to earn promotion to the first division.

The following season, he was transferred to Sliema Athletics who had the famous Scot Jimmy McCormick (a former Arsenal player) as their coach.

“When he left, he went to Turkey as national coach, but unfortunately he died in a car accident. At Sliema, another Briton, Alec Hall took over and it was under his charge that I made my local debut in a match against Floriana in the Scicluna Cup. My first match for Sliema was in Libya in a tournament where we won all our matches, beating Ittihad 3-0 for the Ghirlando Cup after the first match had ended in a goalless draw. I also played in that match.

“I stayed with Sliema till 1963, but in 1961, I was transferred to Floriana who had obtained my release from Sliema. I only turned out for the Greens on two occasions, against Valletta and Hibs, because a dispute was registered and I never played for them again.

“After 1963, however, I had to cut short my career because of a serious injury – I suffered a fracture of the skull and went through four miserable years before I was back to normal,” he said.

Victor hails from a footballing (sporting) family. He explained: “Joining Sliema was not just because we lived there. My father was a secretary of the club between 1922 and 1923, when the Blues won the famous Atkinson Cup. Later he was secretary of the Malta Football Association between 1924 and 1947.

“I still remember the day when we received the FA Trophy in a special oak cabinet. It was the trophy sent by the English FA to be played for in special recognition of the support given by the Maltese during an Italy-England game in Turin. We saved it, together with a few other trophies, because we sealed them in another box. During World War II, the Challenge Cups of all the other divisions were all lost,” he said.

Scerri added that the Sliema team also included three of his cousins. “They were Dr Frankie Busuttil, his brother Bertie and Joe Pisani. Moreover, the Sliema W. premises was next door to our home and that also helped me to join them after Melita.”

Not to be outdone, his wife’s brothers, Joe and Edgar, were also great sports administrators. Joe was Sliema W. secretary for probably over 20 years, while Edgar was also on the Sliema W. committee as well as a member of the Sliema Waterpolo club committee. He is still the ASA treasurer today.

And that is not all, because his daughter Lauren was secretary of Sliema Wanderers nursery for more than 15 years, giving a big helping hand in the administration.

When Victor finished playing in 1963, he took a coaching course.

“I started coaching Gzira and we earned promotion, after finishing second. I left them to join Msida St Joseph who I raised from the third to the first division in consecutive seasons and then replaced Carm Borg at Sliema, after he had been appointed national coach.

“At Sliema, I enjoyed more success. In 1971-72 and 1972-73, we won the League. In 1973-74, we won the Christmas Cup and some other competitions. In the 1974-75 season, I learned from the newspapers that I had been sacked and I was replaced by Terenzio Polverini. After that I joined the MFA and my first match was the 1-2 defeat against Sweden at the Gzira Stadium.

“It was an encouraging start. Due to that minimal defeat, the Swedes were forced to meet Austria in a decider to qualify for the finals. Two seasons later, I was back at Sliema with whom I won my third league, but a year later, I rejoined the MFA. Soon after, my team managed that highly creditable goalless draw in a competitive match against Germany. That was my most prestigious result,” he added.

He considers the 12-1 defeat against Spain as the major debacle. The Spaniards needed a victory by a margin of 11 goals to qualify for the European Championship finals at the expense of Holland who, three days earlier, had beaten Malta 5-0 in Aachen, in Germany.

“I cannot really explain what happened, especially in the second half. The first half had finished 3-1 and my players entered the dressing room highly enthusiastic and full of confidence. But after a few minutes, someone came inside our dressing room handing out lemons to everyone, including the players. The big change witnessed in the second half made me feel that there was something wrong with those lemons.

“I still feel the same way today. This is not to mention all the obstacles Spain had put in front of us. For example, on our arrival they told us our luggage was lost and we were all very upset. Because of this, we missed the connecting flight to Seville and arrived a day late. We could not even have lunch or dinner in the poor hotel provided for us – we had to go to a restaurant all the time.

“They didn’t even give us the opportunity to train before the match, saying that the training ground was waterlogged. When they found another pitch, it was in the dark and they said there was no one to put the electricity (floodlights) on. It was a real nightmare from start to finish, not just the result,” he said.

Another bad moment for Scerri was when Sliema went to play against Gornik Zabrze of Poland in a European Cup match. “At one moment, we were left for 23 hours on a bus – we even slept on it – even though we had the regular visas from the Polish government. It was the offer of some cigarettes that did the trick and ended this ordeal. On our way back, we did the same thing, and this time managed to avoid the hassle,” he added.

These stories apart, Victor also had some positive moments as national coach. “I was at the helm when Malta won its first away match, beating Iceland in Messina, because the Gzira Stadium was serving a ban. I had also led the team to a victory over Tunisia in Tunis with a goal from Simon Tortell.

“I also remember quite well the tournament for the President’s Cup in South Korea in 1981. In our group we had Liechtenstein, Espirito Santo of Brazil, a Uruguayan first division team, Malaysia and Thailand. We beat Malaysia and Thailand, drew with Liechtenstein and Espirito Santo and then lost 1-0 to the Uruguayans in what was a decider to win the group and qualify for the final,” he said.

Scerri said that it was after the Spain match that he quit coaching. “I carried on helping at Ta’ Qali, where I had a good group of 27 young goalkeepers in my charge, among them David Cluett. However, I stayed there only till the arrival of Bob Higgins. I did not want to work with him, and the late Guzi Fava, pioneer and founder of the Sliema W. nursery, persuaded me to become Head Coach of that nursery,” he said.

It is worth remembering that it was on Fava’s initiative that the Sliema nursery started organising the first football tournaments and also began taking the children abroad to to participate in events .

The nursery proved to be well-organised and we are glad that most of the other clubs have followed suit and now also have their own nursery.

“One thing which I disliked was the interference of most of the parents. They all thought that their boy was a Pele, which, of course, was not the case,” said Scerri.

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