Well here we were then on the sun soaked Mediterranean island of Malta. This was a tough job but somebody had to do it and those picked for the task were just me and the missus, who quite fancied a week lying about in the sun, lazy sod ! Unlike our last expedition to watch Buzzer play for Hungary in Budapest against Denmark, at least he was fit and had made the squad this time, so things were looking good on that front. Whether or not he would be picked to play of course was another matter, but we would just have to wait and see. In the meantime we had a couple of days gently snoozing in the sun interspersed with the odd bit of sightseeing, mainly in the spectacular ancient city of Valletta which lies just a short boat ride away from our excellent hotel in Sliema.
We had not been completely idle during this period of rest and relaxation though, we had bought our tickets for the game at £8.00 each for a seat almost on the halfway line. An absolute bargain we thought. We had also arranged our transportation to the match and quite pleased with it we were too. Not for us, a bumpy ride into the centre of the island and the National Stadium at Ta’Qali on one of the fleet of ramshackle 1950’s British Leyland buses that most of the crowd would be using. We were being picked up from the hotel by a friend of a friend, Bjorn Vassallo, a member of the Executive Committee of the Football Association of Malta on his way to the game ! Oh what it is to have contacts in this great sport of ours. At least that was what we thought at the time, things as ever turned out to be slightly different but ain’t that always the way of things ?
Malta had been beaten 3-0 in Denmark four days earlier and had slumped to 146th in the world according to FIFA’s latest rankings, but they had beaten Hungary 2-1 the last time they had played them. Hungary (62nd in the rankings) in contrast had seen off Albania back in Budapest by the score of 2-0 and who were also pretty confident of getting a result and still harboured thoughts of sneaking a qualifying place for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Buzsaky had come on as a 61st minute sub for the Magyars and set up the clinching second goal in the 82nd minute for Roland Juhasz with what was described in the media as a ‘tremendous’ cross. Things were looking good then for our first sight of Buzzer in a Hungary shirt. Even if he didn’t make the starting line-up, he would surely get on as sub – well, wouldn’t he ?
So, here we were then waiting outside our extremely nice harbour side hotel for our new friend Bjorn, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited. A quick phone call established that he had just returned to the island from Italy and was running late. He would however, pick us up sharp at 18.20, over an hour before the game, so we had no need to worry. We waited and at 18.30 we were still waiting. At 18.40 we were still waiting but finally at 18.45.three quarters of an hour before kick-off, a slightly beaten up VW Polo screamed to a halt with a middle aged man waving frantically at us from behind the wheel – the member of the Executive Council of the FA of Malta had arrived !!! The first thing he did was to deeply apologise for being late, he was always late he said. In fact, he told us he was really very well known for it. Great we thought as he threw the little Polo round every seemingly tight and deserted back street in Sliema on our way out to Ta’Qali.
Every sighting of traffic going to the game necessitated a sharp turn of direction to try and get there first, including one into a dead end and another out into some unmarked scrubland populated only by giant prickly pear cactus and lizards. At every screeching turn, Carol in the back and me in the front were bombarded by pens, notebooks, magazines, bits of paper and various other detritus as the contents of the car moved about seemingly with a life of their own. Still, at 19.15 we arrived at the ground or at least the entrance to the official car park, having squeezed past no end of queuing cars and worried looking pedestrians, only for Bjorn to start rummaging around the car looking for his Maltese FA pass. Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t find it in the jumble. He was very well known he said for never being able to find things and with the state of the inside of his car, we believed him.
He somehow managed to blag his way into the main car park though and dropped us off at the entrance to the separate VIP car park with instructions to meet him there as soon as the game finished. We left him desperately trying to find his VIP pass and also a handful of tickets he had promised to some visiting foreign football coaches who were by now anxiously surrounding the little car. We hurried around the ground and made our way into the newest part of it, the Millennium Stand for which we had bought our tickets the day before. So late were we that we missed the team announcements and the total lack of a programme or anything left us totally in the dark about who was playing ? Pretty obviously Buzzer wasn’t though and the game started in such dire fashion it made the previous one in Budapest look like a classic !
But lo and behold after twenty three minutes a miracle occurred, Hungary scored a goal. A well worked move resulted in one of the Hungarian players nodding the ball back across goal and big Sandor Torghelle of European giants FC Augsberg, crashed his header past the Maltese goalie. We knew it was him cos they put his name up on the very small but very bright electronic scoreboard behind the goal. This was better we thought, although there was very little sign of any other threats to either goal before half time.
At half time we got to have a good look around the stadium and both agreed what a nice one it was. It might be right in the middle of nowhere and very probably the hardest to get to (and even more, from) international ground in the world but it was quite smart if small. Fairly new-ish looking, it was only one single tier all around except for the main stand opposite us where a roof extended over the top of two tiers it contained. There were quite a few executive boxes, mainly empty it has to be said, at the back of the uncovered Millennium Stand we were in and both ends were just uncovered rows of red and white bucket seats. To our left we were entertained throughout by the band of what is called the ‘South End Core’ or what we would call ‘the mob’. They were very good though bashing out song after song despite the dire football being played out in front of them. There was a tall single poled floodlight at each corner and the already mentioned small but useful electronic scoreboard above the fairly well populated South End. I reckon the ground held about 15,000 packed full and it certainly wasn’t that. The official attendance was put at a slightly disappointing (or so said the next day’s papers) 4,797 (Part Three to follow)