An article published in The Times of Malta on 10th March 2005
Joseph Barbara ‘Il-Mast’ – A prominent figure during St George’s glory years
SportMarch 10, 2005|03 min readJoseph Barbara, il-Mast, in 1927 with the Cousis Shield, the Championship Cup and other trophies won by St George`s.
I remember one Friday evening in 1966 when Lewis Portelli dedicated part of his popular television programme ‘Sports Panorama’ to St George’s FC.
It was a kind of reminder to many old-timers from Cottonera of the golden days of the pioneers of Maltese football.
In the 60s, many of the individuals who figured prominently in the club’s early history were still alive and they could, if they wanted, recount many old tales of the exploits of that famous team.
I recall the television camera focusing on old photographs, trophies and pennants, mellowed with age but each full of fond memories.
In the 60s, the Saints were still some force in the domestic game and although their glory days were behind them, they could still stir the hearts of the people of Cospicua.
Portelli interviewed many old timers in his programme, including Michael Paris, the club president and an ex-player himself, and his brother, Dr Peppi Paris.
These two gentlemen paid tribute to the many players and committee members who, through their efforts, etched the name of St George’s FC with letters of gold in the history of Maltese football.
Who can ever forget such great football personalities as Salvu Gili, Wenzu Busuttil, Il-Garaga, and his brother Emmanuel, Il-Balolu as he was affectionately known.
There was also the inimitable Masu Hicks, Karmenu Tabone, Ix-Xtu, Tagliaferro, Emmanuel Delia and Josie Fearne to mention but a few of the protagonists of the Mile End era.
Among the many officials who served on the St George’s committee in those days was Joseph Barbara, popularly known as Il-Mast because he was also a bandmaster.
As far as I could ascertain from the information given to me by his nephew Joe, Barbara was born in Zejtun but he spent most of his life in Cospicua.
Joe Barbara is a prominent Maltese artist. Us two were colleagues at Umberto Calosso Trade School in the 80s.
Joining the Saints’ committee as far back as 1913, Barbara quickly made his mark on the game as a competent and shrewd judge of football, a careful and cautious administrator and above all, an honest man who was respected by friend and foe alike.
Barbara served on the Saints’ committee right up to 1938, drinking from the cup of success and also tasting the bitter dregs of defeat with a spirit as indomitable as that of the toughest of the pioneers.
During his time at St George’s, the game in Malta was dominated by Floriana FC and Sliema Wanderers. Many times the two giants of Maltese football were favoured by the decisions from MFA councils, making it very difficult for the less-favoured clubs to hold their own during delegates’ assemblies.
Barbara was the protagonist of many tough battles in the council, conflicts which many times resulted in suspensions for himself and his club. He never gave up, however, and continued to air his views up to 1939 when he was elected by association delegates as an independent member in the council.
This speaks a lot of his integrity. Barbara served on the council for another 15 hectic years before he finally retired from all football activities.
His name is forever linked with that of St George’s, in the same vein as that of Gianni Bencini is with Melita.
During his time, St George’s were a power in local football. During that glorious period the Saints won their only League Championship in 1916-17 and the Cousis Shield in 1916-17 and 1926-27.
Barbara died soon after that memorable television programme in 1966 and with him seemed to pass away the best days of St George’s.
The proud old club needs men like Barbara to help it recapture some of its old glories.