The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

The Story of Christopher Dowling: A powerful swimmer who was referred to as one of the ‘Terrible Twins’

Malta Independent Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

CHRISTOPHER DOWLING was one of Malta’s top swimmers in the 1960s and early 1970s. Not only was he one of Malta’s most feared scorers in the game of water polo, but he was also a strong and powerful swimmer. In the game of water polo, he formed part of the duo (with Freddie Griscti) which became known as “The Terrible Twins”. They simply terrorised all opposition in the best years of the Balluta Water polo Club. He hails from the great Dowling family, which included his uncle, the late “Budgy” Dowling – a legend of the game – and “Budgy”’s son Dirk who played for Valletta, St Julian’s and Sirens before becoming the national coach. Here Christopher tells his story to Henry Brincat

It is not the first time that we hear of someone following in his father’s footsteps. For Christopher, it was a case of following in his family’s footsteps with a good number of brothers, uncles and cousins gracing the local water polo pitches and all being strong and outstanding swimmers.

Since he was a 10-year-old, he used to be coached by his uncle, the late legendary Valletta water polo player “Budgy” Dowling. “I was coached exceedingly well by my uncle at the St Rocco Baths in Valletta. Later, I remember, we used to play water polo in between barges set on purpose to avoid any waves. At that time, Valletta had been suspended due to misbehaviour by the team and in 1957, I chose Balluta WPC as my club. In 1960, I joined Valletta United, but I stayed there for just one year. I passed the rest of my playing career at St Julian’s and Balluta WPC before I immigrated to Canada.

“When I came back home, in 1968, I also played for one season with Sliema ASC, helping them win the Championship and the KO. I stopped completely from the game in 1973, after having captained the St Michael’s Teachers’ Training College team on several occasions,” he said.

Apart from “Budgy” Dowling in the Valletta team, there was also Ralph, another uncle. His brothers, the late Paul, John and James were all good swimmers while among his most renowned cousins were “Budgy”’s three sons, Dirk, Kim and Kurt who played for the great Valletta team of the 1970s as well as Dennis who played for Sliema.

Christopher said that he had been lured to Balluta WPC by the late Guzi Tanti. “At Balluta we had another great coach in Carm Borg. “Tanti had picked me up while I played at the old St Julian’s pitch. With Balluta I went on to win four championship titles and four cups between 1962 and 1966. Freddie Griscti and I formed a good combination referred to by the late Robbie De Cesare of The Times of Malta those days as ‘The Terrible Twins’.”

Christopher is also proud that he had been selected to represent Malta on two distinct occasions. “The first was in 1960 at the Rome Olympic Games, though without much success as the standards were much higher. Three years later, I was also selected to play for Malta’s water polo team at the Naples Mediterranean Games,” he added.

Christopher was not just good as a water polo player. In fact, many still consider him as one of the most powerful swimmers ever to appear in Malta. He established various national records for the 100 metres and won the event on most occasions during the ASA and club meetings.

He added: “I also took part regularly in the Christmas Flipper race which, quite unfortunately, is no longer held these days. It used to be organised by the Malta Sub Aqua Club. I won that event on five occasions,” he recalled.

Asked to mention one big name in the game of water polo in his days, he quickly referred to Freddie Griscti, when they were together at Balluta. And asked to mention other great players of that era, he mentioned, among others, Muscat, George Borg and the Portelli brothers of Sirens, Bertie Portelli and J. Wismayer of Neptunes, Ivan Pace, Dennis Degiorgio, and C. Triganza of Sliema, whom he considers as stalwarts of the game.

His greatest satisfaction in water polo was his first championship title, but as a most memorable moment he recalled the day when in 1963, Balluta met Sliema in a championship decider at the Neptunes Pitch. He said: “We were losing 4-1, but I managed to score four goals to hand the title to my team.”

Christopher had no major disappointments in the game. However, he remembered the day when he was still 10 years old and was playing with Balluta Minors team. “The late Richard Vella Bamber of Sliema elbowed me accidentally and I lost two teeth. I was literally crying. Another disappointing moment was at Sirens Pitch when the late Charles Micallef (Malta’s best ever referee) and Major Alfred Briffa dismissed me and Griscti, which led to our losing the game against Sliema.”

Finally, Christopher also wanted to comment on sport in his days and as it is being played today. He said: “In my days, it was more pronounced and accentuated. Sportsmen (not just water polo players and swimmers), very willingly shared expenses to play for the club they loved. Nowadays, there is a big improvement at all levels of sport. Of course, the funds are important, especially with the majority of the players turning professional,” he said.

* * *

A profile – Christopher Dowling

Date of birth: 15 June 1944, in Sliema

Education: Started at Montessori School in Sliema and later at the Sliema Primary School. He moved on to the Lyceum in Hamrun and then finished his studies at the St Michael’s Teachers’ Training College between 1971 and 1974 following which he graduated as a teacher.

Sporting career: He played football, badminton, basketball, cricket and rugby when he was still a schoolboy, but he never reached great heights in these disciplines – he played just for the love of it. It was in water polo and swimming that he made a name for himself. In water polo, he played mostly for Balluta, but also had short spells at St Julian’s and Sliema. He was also a national team player. Furthermore, he captained the St Michael’s Training College water polo team till 1973 when he stopped playing. In swimming, he represented Malta in the Olympic Games in Rome and the Mediterranean Games in Naples. But in his time, he managed to establish various national records in the 100m. He also took part regularly in the Christmas Flipper race which he won on five occasions.

Working career: He was a teacher by profession. Now that he is retired, he still gives private lessons. He is also being encouraged to enter politics in the forthcoming general election under the Malta Labour Party flag.

Honours: He won five league championships and five cups, four of each with Balluta, which was always his favourite team. One which eluded him was the Player of the Year award.

Pastimes: He enjoys reading, sleeping, socialising with tourists and Maltese, teaching foreign languages – though against remuneration, keeping in contact with old friends, swimming, befriending people from all walks of life, travelling and playing backgammon with his wife.

Family: Christopher is married to Fiona née Mories. He is a member of the famous sporting Dowling family. He is the son of Jimmy Dowling and nephew of the famous “Budgy” Dowling and Ralph, both former players of Valletta United WPC. The late Paul, John and James were his brothers, while well-known players Dirk, Kim and Kurt as well as Dennis are all his cousins.

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