Football Federation Australia is saddened to hear that Emmanuel (Lolly) Vella, Socceroo #161, recently passed away on the 29th September 2012.
Born on the 7th August 1933, Lolly and his brother Tony arrived in Australia from Malta in the mid-1950s. Tony was an established player with Floriana and the Maltese national team. Tony worked in a wool store in South Kensington and decided that was better than as a corporal in Malta. George Cross was then in the second division and Tony signed instead for JUST at the urging of Henry Chatka one of the JUST officials. Tony stayed with JUST from 1955 to 1959 and his wife and two daughters joined him as did Lolly. Lolly was also a player with Floriana and a Maltese international. Together they helped JUST win the club’s first championship of the First Division in 1957. Both brothers played for Victoria and Lolly had two games for Australia against New Zealand in 1958 and matches against visiting clubs. In 1958 Tony became player-coach at JUST and continued in that role at several other clubs.
George Cross won the second division that year and hence promotion to what became the first season of the State League. The Vella brothers starred in the Malta team which knocked off Italy in the final of the Laidlaw World Cup in 1957, with Tony in midfield and Lolly on the wing. At the start of the 1959 season George Cross signed the Vella brothers and won the Sun Cup at the start of the year, the State League Cup and the Dockerty Cup and narrowly missed the league title thanks to the stellar form of the Dutch club Wilhelmina.
Lolly was in the Ampol Cup final with George Cross in early 1962 and played for Victoria against Queensland in June 1962. It was while playing with George Cross that Lolly broke his leg in a match against JUST. George Cross did not think he would recover and during the 1962 season the brothers moved to Polonia, but Tony was not happy with a playing only role, so he moved on to Lions in 1963. Lolly’s Polonia beat Tony’s Lions in the night cup final. Lolly helped Polonia finish as runner-up in the Australia Cup in 1963. In 1964 Lolly was back at George Cross, where he continued in 1965, but then returned to JUST for the 1966 season, playing alongside Rale Rasic, Frank Micic and Billy Rice. Lolly also had a season at St Albans and when he finally hung up his boots at the age of 36 he coached a junior team at Green Gully for a couple of years, while Tony was the senior coach.
Outside football Lolly was an expediter at Massey Ferguson, the tractor and agricultural machinery company, where he worked for over 30 years retiring at the age of 57.
Lolly was very committed to his family of three sons, Carmelo, Tony and Lolly junior, daughter Iris and his wife Jean. His other passion was Manchester United and after he was diagnosed with cancer, Tony would take his laptop to the hospital so that his Dad could keep up with the exploits of the Red Devils. Lolly did not let his illness stop him and after the first operation he set off for Atlanta in the United States to visit his youngest son there.
His proudest moment was probably when he finally received recognition by the FFA five years ago when he was presented with his Australian cap in honour of his appearances for his adopted country in 1958. An ornament to the game during his career, Lolly Vella will be remembered as one of migrants who helped transform football in the post-war era.