The Magpies Crusaders are rolling up their sleeves preparing for a battle for survival in the Queensland NPL competition.
As the club name suggests Magpies Crusaders are a merger of existing Mackay clubs the Magpies and the Crusaders formed to become one of two fresh new franchises in the state competition.
After some tough times the Magpies are in a fight for survival sitting 13th on the ladder but holding plenty of hope that they can avoid the dreaded ‘R’ word – relegation to the Football Queensland Premier League in 2019.
Step one in that exercise comes on Saturday night at Sologinkin Oval in Mackay in a game against North Queensland United, when victory would go a long way to easing tension in the camp.
“This is a six pointer for us, it’s a massive game,” English-born captain Michael Lyall said.
“The season could balance on this because if we don’t win we could be in trouble and all the lads know that.”
Asked if the prospect of relegation in the club’s first season is starting to be of concern, Lyall said: “No, it’s not panic stations but we need a win. It’s a key month for us, the next three or four games.”
After North Queensland the Magpies play Sunshine Coast (away), Western Pride (away) and Lions FC (away).
The Magpies (13th) have nine points from three wins. Saturday night’s opposition are 10th on 12 points, so positions can change significantly depending on the result.
The Townsville club landed the first blow in the tropical rivalry when they scored by 2-1 in the second round. Lyall believes the Crusaders have improved a lot since then.
“We’re playing better football,” he said. “Everyone was new to it, in new positions, but as the season has gone on we’ve improved in several areas, although we’re definitively the underdogs on Saturday night after losing to them already.”
Last weekend produced evidence that the Magpies can be competitive against the best. They were 2-2 with Olympic FC until 15 minutes from the end but collapsed and lost 5-2 away.
So has the merged identity worked even if success has been limited?
“Definitely,” Lyall said. “Obviously being the first year in the league we had to sign on 20-odd players and we had to get them from everywhere. And a majority of them are locals.”
For someone who arrived in Queensland from Nottingham in England half a dozen years ago, for all intents and purposes simply to play the tourist, Lyall has played his role in the advancement of football in the tropical city.
He ventured to Mackay to visit a mate and has not left.
“I had a couple of friends up here and I visited them – and ended up staying and playing with the Magpies,” Lyall said.
“I arrived here without any shin pads or any playing kit so I wasn’t planning on staying.”
There is a lighter side to Lyall living, playing and working in Mackay.
He is a pool technician. “There are not many pools in England but I’ve managed it so far,” he said.
And he can be excused for an unintended play on words when he said that the Magpies Crusaders were thrown in at the deep end for their first year in NPL.
Words: Terry Wilson