On to 2010 and Neptunes were eager to impress their new sponsors Emirates, the internationally renowned award winning airline, who had replaced Vodafone. The Committee left no stone unturned to see that Neptunes regained the throne they richly deserved. Neptunes were very proud that a company, with worldwide recognition, enjoying the the prestige and reputation of Emirates had chosen to be associated with our club.
Through the unstinted efforts of the hard-working club president, Matthew Bonello, the club managed to re-engage the outstanding ex-captain of Serbia Vlado Vujasinovic and triple Olympic gold medal winner with Hungary Tamas Molnar. The cherished league title was truly back at the Balluta Bay club. Shady decisions deprived us of winning the double as we had the brunt edge of the referees’ decisions in the last minute of the final. The club never expected to have a referee, who flung over a chair at Neptunes supporters at the same time verbally insulting them, controlling their more important matches.
Steven Camilleri, who had been having outstanding displays for the Italian Serie A side Bogliasco, again headed the list for top goalscorers with a record 61 goals.
The team was guided by none other than Sergey Markoch whose friendliness and smiling disposition are characteristic of the man – the charisma which distinguishes coaches of a high calibre. Markoch was at the helm of our team towards the end of season 1993 when he took over from Guzi Attard and Neptunes won the first competition ever held at the new Tal-Qroqq national Pool.
The teams’ roots were visibly gaining strength. Anchorman David Camilleri who was recalled from cold storage of this year, finally called it a day. Dependable Edward Cachia too retired due to pressure of work, during the winter league as did our steady goalkeeper Nicky Gouder at the end of the season.
Edward ‘Cocci’ Aquilina complemented these departures together with Maltese-American Bryan Buhagiar and Ian Bugeja.
Towards the end of 2010 another long-term project of the club was completed when the club restaurant at street level was enclosed, making it operational practically all the year round.
In 2011 the Amateur Swimming Association decided on a new format for its competitions. Some liked and some did not!
In the end it was confirmed that Neptunes’ resurgence in recent years has been yet another positive interlude in the chequered annals of our club. Since we came into being in 1929 our history has been dotted with national honours. Our landmarks in waterpolo and swimming, the lifeblood of our club, have been in the forefront of these sports disciplines in Malta. Neptunes are linked with achievements and the club’s name is synonymous with success.
The last six years have been marked by our team’s dominance in the league championship as well as the continued hit by our younger players, with their streak of uninterrupted victories in the cadets’ competitions, now nearing a remarkable record stretch of a quarter of a century!
Our success story is not only in terms of honours won at all levels but also in quality waterpolo. This exceptional fare by the senior team helped us maul all opposition, including an unprecedented 18-9 thrashing of Sliema in one of the seven wins we registered when we faced them this summer.
Our stellar outfit made it a landmark 20th championship triumph to cement a two-star label as holders of the topmost domestic prize.
It was all the result of meticulous planning and preparation. The re-engagement of ace-striker Tamas Molnar and the recruitment of the exceptional playmaker and scorer, Vladimir Gojkovic from Montenegro, could only help to strengthen an already solid outfit which had two goal-scoring machines in BOV Player of the Year Steven Camilleri, and the consistently sharp team captain, Niki Lanzon, who was runner-up as Player of the Year. Between them they scored a massive 161 goals.
The rest of the players integrated into a formidable outfit which produced waterpolo never seen by a local team. Of course, the role played by the astute coach Sergey Markoch, assisted by Tony Camilleri, was vital in helping our players tune up to excellent levels.
So the year 2011 has been yet another landmark in the career of Steven Camilleri, according to many the best ever.
He scooped all local waterpolo awards available which include the Player of the Year, Player of the Month for July and August, top scorer with a bumper 107 goals in the summer competitions, the best ever total, netted a record 15 goals for Malta in the LEN championships comprising matches in 2010 and 2011 and was instrumental in helping our team Neptunes carry off all summer honours.
Yes, the list is endless and extends to his achievements in Italy where he was top scorer for RN Bogliasco for the 2011 calendar year besides ending in the very top bracket of the Italian league scorers’ list where at one point he also occupied the number one position among the elite of waterpolo players.
When the championship race for 2012 ended on the 8th of September after our boys had won the third play-off against Sliema, it was odds on that Steve Camilleri would sweep the top individual honour of Waterpolo Player of the Year for 2012. He had also been voted best player of the month for July and August.
No one lived in his street. Technique, strong swimming, versatility and above all a keen eye for goal which helped him dominate the scoring charts yet again would be enough to earn him the coveted prize as Malta’s number one player of the year.
For some unrest in the ASA camp this award took sometime to be announced. Steve had swept the scoring board in every match scoring 78 goals which was way ahead of the second-placed scorer. On a wider scale he was not far off the mark in the 2011 ‘Sporstman of the Year’ contest after finishing second.
Summer 2012 was yet again a success story for our favourites Neptunes and their shrewd Russian coach Sergey Markoch. Though not as dominant as they had been during the previous summer, the Balluta Bay team managed to peak up admirably at the right time and thus prolong a winning streak that saw them retain the BOV championship honours for the third successive year for the 21st title in our 84-year history and also win the 21st Cup for a second ‘Double’ in two years, totalling nine in all.
This rosy patch in our club’s annals meant that the Reds have won five league titles besides two cup successes in the last seven years and an unequalled total of nine major honours in the last decade.
No one will argue that the Reds were the best outfit. In terms of consistency and scoring statistics they were tops. The players’ versatility and shrewd adaptable game plans were other hallmarks in their repertoire. Moreover, they again had two players in the top five scorers list, the irrepressible Steve Camilleri who headed the rankings with 78 goals, and Tamas Molnar, of triple Gold Olympic fame, with 50.
The team may not have gone through a runaway round robin summer phase like they did last year, but then they showed their mettle when they won this year’s best-of-five play-off series against runners-up Sliema in four rather than five matches. For the umpteenth time the main challenge was offered by the Blues.
Whereas in 2011 Neptunes won seven out of 11 matches against Sliema, with the Blues winning three and one drawn, it was closer this year as we beat our rivals seven out of the 13 times we met them, with five going the Blues’ way and a match finishing all square.
Our president Matthew Bonello, at the club’s helm for the past seven years, had words of praise for Neptunes. ‘This rosy patch since 2006 emulated the four-year successful stint we had in the eighties. Throughout the season there were moments of difficulty and inconsistency but the team has developed the ability to deliver when it matters,’ he said.
As for the players’ contribution to this year’s success, the fearsome scoring tandem of Steve Camilleri and Tamas Molnar was emulated by that colossus, Aleksandar Ciric from Serbia, and the ever-dependable captain Niki Lanzon, two all-purpose players of refined qualities.
In the cadets’ leagues, Neptunes kept up their staggering feat of at least landing a junior honour every year for almost the last quarter of a century when winning the inaugural Under-13 league and that of the Under-15 category.
It is to be noted here that our team has recorded two more ‘firsts’ in their history. The juniors won the first edition of the Under 13 league, while the seniors won the championship for the first time in its amended play-off format.
Efficiency on the pool deck by the match secretariat, the pool staff and generally good refereeing helped to make it a successful summer. This was replete with numerous disciplinary decisions which, however, could have done with less tinkering.
The year ended on a sad note when two of our members were struck by sudden death. Dr Michael Gialanze, a former club committee-member and former vice-president passed away suddenly when on holiday with his wife in Israel while the popular 49-year-old Stephen LaRosa, a staunch supporter and benefactor, died some hours after he was enjoying himself at the Neptunes’ pool.
A BOUNTIFUL 2013 ON ALL FRONTS FOR NEPTUNES
The year 2013 marked yet another bountiful chapter in our chequered history. Championship victory sealed early in September made it a further four-in-a-row accolade for Neptunes. Unfortunately, we had a bitter taste in the KO competition which eluded us after the lottery of penalties.
As for individual players’ honours Steven Camilleri (top scorer again) confirmed his outstanding credentials when he was named as ‘Waterpolo Player of the Year’ for the third year running.
All our boys, led expertly by team long-standing team captain, Niki Lanzon, and including new signing Alan Borg Cole in goal, were the protagonists of yet another memorable year for the senior side which again had Tamas Molnar and Aleksandar Ciric as our duo of influential foreign players.
The first string also won the President’s Cup for a record seven wins, an honour preceded by an unparalleled eighth success in the Winter league – indeed records galore for Neptunes…!
Not to be outdone, our juniors maintained the streak of successes, uninterrupted for the last quarter of a century, when the Under 15’s clinched the championship title of their category. The ladies also had their say in our remarkable year when notching an impressive double in the revamped competition for the fairer sex.
In swimming we were again the club which led the way, with several outstanding performances and national records from our numerous dedicated swimmers led by head coach Gail Rizzo.
The year 2013, however, was dampened in the end. Members of the club were left dumbfounded when Joe G.P. Bonello, father of club president Matthew Bonello and a great follower of Neptunes, died suddenly in early November.
Neptunes’ cherished dream to re-write the record books by scooping the fifth title in succession became a reality when they made certain of the 2014 championship with 14 points to spare over nearest rivals Sliema.
The year started with Neptunes conceding the Winter League title to Sliema, but they quickly regained their pride when winning the President’s Cup for the eighth time when beating Sliema 11-8.
Neptunes consistency in the league helped them edge nearest rivals Sliema in the two-round first phase, the Blues tossing away points when least expected, against Sirens (lost 12-11) and Exiles (11-11).
The Championship Pool matches showed Neptunes supreme as they crushed all opposition to win their 23rd Championship. They also made it a memorable season by winning the Double to make it 22 Cup victories. Vlado Gojkovic was the second overseas player for Neptunes this year.
Team captain Niki Lanzon, Steven Camilleri and his brother Jordan, Michele Stellini, Hungarian ace Tamas Molnar and coach Sergey Markoch etched their names in gold in Neptunes’ chequered history as they were the heroes who broke uncharted territory of Maltese waterpolo when they helped Neptunes win five titles in a row.
The juniors also excelled, winning the Under-13, Under-15 and Under-17 titles while the girls completed Neptunes’ superiority by winning their league and Knock-Out competitions.
The year ended with the girls singing “Ixorbu minn idejkhom. Għax tazzi ma fadalx” meaning that other clubs had to drink from their hands as there were no more Cups (silverware) available!
On the swimming front Neptunes too were leaders in almost in every event.
For the second year running the club lost one of its main pillars. Last year it was Joe GP Bonello, father of our president, who died unexpectedly while on September 17 it was Carol Calleja, a former player, committee member and club treasurer for many years, who went to meet the Risen Lord.
The year 2015 saw Neptunes returning to win the pre-season Winter League for a total of nine times. They did this under new coach Zoran Mustur from Montenegro. However, Neptunes lost the President’s Cup final to Sliema (12-11 after extra-time) and inconsistent play led them to lose their grip on the Premier Division title to neighbours San Giljan. Earlier Neptunes also lost the KO final against the Saints 13-12. Neptunes prodigy Steven Camilleri had another bumper year, having finished yet again as top scorer and was named as Malta’s Sportsman of the Year. He was also awarded the ASA Waterpolo of the Year honour for the fifth time. In October, left-hander Michele Stellini, who remained a one-club man throughout his career, decided to quit the game. Besides, utility-man Clint Mercieca switched his allegiance to our neighbours San Giljan and youngster Sean Xerri de Caro also retired from the game at the end of the 2016 Winter League.
Hosts Serbia triumphed for the third successive time in the European Waterpolo Championship as the year 2016 started. But as far as Malta was concerned, Neptunes’ outstanding No. 7, Steven Camilleri, ended up as the competition’s top scorer with 21 goals.
In February 2016 Steven was honoured with the National Sportsman of the Year Title on the basis of his feats in the previous year 2015.
Understandably, due to the defections mentioned above, Neptunes were considered as the underdogs for the 2016 title but they confounded the critics as they unexpectedly triumphed to win their 24th championship and remain unbeaten! The engagement of coach Zoran Maslovar and his assistant Igor Martinovic was a master-stroke as the Montenegrin mentors managed to instil in the players the will-to-win attitude and their commitment during the matches was second to none. During the season, Jordan Camilleri, brother of Steven, graduated as a Doctor of Medicine. Youngsters Jeremy Abela and Miguel Zammit were drafted in the threadbare side and they responded admirably to their call-up. As in past years Niki Lanzon’s leadership was a joy to watch while the contribution of overseas player, Cosmin Radu captain of the Rumania national waterpolo team was priceless as he popped up with important goals and prompted a number of expulsions when it mattered most.
In June, the ASA presented Niki Lanzon and Steven Camilleri with tokens as appreciation for their services; Lanzon for his long service as a member and captain of the national team after he announced his retirement from representative duties and Camilleri for his prestigious achievement when topping the goalscorers’ list with 21 goals at the 2016 European Championship finals, held in Serbia in January.
It was an astonishing year for Neptunes.
The Neptunes committee was faced with a number of obstacles this year, especially where the choice of overseas player was concerned. Cosmin Radu, the Rumanian captain who had given a good account of himself in season 2016 informed the club that he could not make it for 2017 after he had agreed terms.
Then the club’s choice fell on Argentine Gonzalo Echenique who had acquired Spanish citizenship. This Rosario-born star who played for ProRecco in Italy, had also agreed terms with Neptunes but surprisingly he later advised the club that he could not make it as he was in the process of changing his citizenship yet again, this time he was becoming an Italian national. Chalo, as he is affectionately known, was asked to give up playing here in order to hasten his Italian naturalization process and so with the waterpolo season fast approaching, Neptunes’ choice fell on 31-year- old Romain Blary. The 6’5” Frenchman had a spell with Exiles in 2015. Neptunes, however, failed to reach the standard of play they had exhibited in the recent past and with other teams having recruited world renowned players, our task was a difficult one.
Despite all this it was our Steven Camilleri who was voted as Malta’s water polo player of the year for the seventh time in his glittering career.
He first won this honour in 2007, then he clinched three in a row in seasons 2011, 2012 and 2013, and then another hat-trick of wins in 2015, 2016 and now 2017.
This means that he has won this honour SIX times in the last seven years, and SEVEN times in the last 11 years – a truly remarkable achievement. Meanwhile in 2015, Steven was also voted as Malta’s Sportsman of the Year.
And yet another two Neptunes players featured in this year’s ASA awards. They come from the junior ranks and are sure to qualify as two of Neptunes’ future stars.
Jake Muscat was voted as the best player in the Under-15 category while Nikolai Zammit received the accolade for the Under-17s.
It was the juniors who kept Neptunes’ flag flying high this year as they managed to win the Under-15 and Under-17 national titles meaning that our club’s youngsters continued the amazing streak of junior honours Neptunes have won uninterruptedly for the past 32 years – a truly remarkable achievement.
Midway through the waterpolo season the fraternity of this sport was shocked to learn about the untimely demise of Alex Vella, a man of many parts – for many, a friend and colleague, but for others a veteran journalist with excellent writing skills. Alex was the right-hand man of the Neptunes magazine editor Leonard Zammit when compiling the Neptunes’ annual. His flamboyant articles will be sorely missed.
More sad losses for Neptunes were those of life-long member PL Joe Gatt and a member of the 1949 championship winning team Dr Alex Mizzi who lived in the US but was a regular visitor in the summer.
While hopefully, the strength of the senior squad will be seen to for 2018, it is expected that our side will be making use of a number of promising youngsters who have adorned the junior competitions.