It may have taken place 31 years ago, but the memory of the late Prince Philip’s 1990 visit to Malta still remains fresh in Anthony Farrugia’s mind.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband were carrying out a state visit to Malta, the island they once lived in, and one of the official events was a polo match between Malta and the Royal Navy selection.
As President of the Malta Polo Club, Farrugia was heavily involved in this event and described his chance to host the Duke of Edinburgh as a “rare privilege”.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, he recounted how the match had special significance because of the Royal Family’s close ties to the Malta Polo Club, which is the oldest club in the Northern hemisphere.
Prince Philip’s uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten and his son Prince Charles had not only played in Malta, but Lord Mountbatten was a major patron of the club and had bequeath very prestigious trophies to its considerable collection.
“This event therefore had huge significance for the Malta Polo Club, whose older and more influential members, unbeknownst to me, still harboured a fierce rivalry against the British,” Farrugia said.
“These in their time dominated the sporting scene at the Marsa and seemingly looked down upon the Maltese polo players. The committee members therefore insisted on fielding the strongest team possible in spite of the visitors having a lower handicap.”
“Feeble attempts were made by some to offer a balanced contest, however the vast majority preferred awarding a goal advantage rather than running the risk of being dominated on the ground.”
The Maltese Cats, featuring brothers Vincent and Albert Galea (from Joinwell), Salvu Darmanin and Captain Cassar (co-founder of Cassar & Cooper) were unbeatable in the past and the current players were determined not to surrender their record against the British.
“Salvu Darmanin in particular was still very active in the sport at the time and was well known for his powerful and accurate shots at full gallop; he was definitely going to play,” Farrugia said. “I had the unenviable task of telling the lesser handicapped players that they could not play. Some had very high expectations to be selected and were bitterly disappointed. You can imagine that I was then very unpopular in some circles.”
Malta’s President Ugo Mifsud Bonnici was a guest of honour and sat next to Prince Philip during the game, while Farrugia sat on the President’s other side.
“As expected, we trounced the Royal Navy team, so that by the time Prince Philip arrived 20 minutes after the start, we were leading 6-0 and had to ask our players to slow it down… which they refused to do, pure incorruptible souls that they were,” he said.
“Dr. Ugo asked me to take his seat so that I could sit next to the Prince and answer his many questions. Prince Philip was meant to spend a maximum of 20 minutes with us, but it quickly became clear that he was staying and he got right into the atmosphere.”
“As the game grew more intense and passions rose, the Prince did not hold back and I was regaled to some very colourful language. At one point, the Navy team, although recovering well were clearly in trouble, at which point he exclaimed “you’ve given them the donks” meaning that our Club had lent inferior ponies to the visitors.”
“I denied this of course, but I suspected that it was true!”
He said that although Malta emerged triumphant, Prince Philip was reluctant to leave and happily chatted away with members, players and guests.
“He did however report us to the Queen,” Farrugia said.
“When we were received by Her Majesty a few days later, she remarked to me jokingly that her husband was the lucky one who was allowed to go to the match, but that we were very inhospitable to the Royal Navy having so roundly beaten them.”
Cover photo: Anthony Farrugia (right) with the late Prince Philip (left)
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