Big Interview: Paul's Knights to remember
Craig Salmon talks to Preston-born former Morecambe footballer Paul Lloyd, who has spent the past six years playing football in AustraliaCaptain Paul Lloyd drew in a large intake of breath to steady his nerves.
The Preston-born 30-year-old was just one good kick away from providing an historic moment for his club Western Knights.
The semi-professional football club were tantalisingly close to securing a place in the final 32 of the prestigious FFA Cup – Australian football’s biggest domestic knockout competition.
With their semi-final tie away to the higher-ranked Bayswater City in the West State Cup locked at one goal apiece, Lloyd had a chance to put the Knights ahead from the penalty spot in stoppage time.
With hardly any time left to restart the match, the former Morecambe winger knew a successful conversion would seal his team’s place in the final – as well as securing that coveted last-32 spot.
Fortunately, Lloyd remained cool, calm and collected as he stroked the ball home from 12 yards – sending the goalkeeper the wrong way in the process – to spark wild celebrations both on and off the pitch within the visitors’ ranks.
The goal was perhaps the stand-out moment of the season for the Knights, who enjoyed one of their most memorable campaigns since the club’s inception in the late 1960s.
Playing in the State League One (SL1) – two levels below Australia’s top division, the A-League, the Knights were crowned league and cup champions.
Their progress to the last 32 of the FFA Cup was remarkable because it was the first time any club from the SL1 had reached that stage of the competition.
“Scoring the penalty was one of the biggest highlights of this season,” said Lloyd.
“We were playing Bayswater, who were the Western Australia champions and from the division above us.
“They are a renowned team and the biggest name across the whole of the state.
“We pulled them away in the semi-finals. Whoever won would go through to the final of the State Cup and into the last 32 of the FFA Cup.
“The two teams who reach the state final automatically go into the last 32.
“The FFA Cup is a bit like the FA Cup in England.
“In fact, they base the competition on the FA Cup.
“Reaching the last 32 is when all the big clubs from the A-League enter – similar to the third round in England when all the Premier League and Championships clubs come in.”
Against Bayswater, Lloyd and his team-mates looked to be up against it as Brent Griffiths handed their higher-ranked opponents an early lead.
However, Knights remained in the game despite that early setback and drew level courtesy of Adriano Jelenovic shortly before half-time.
Neither side were able to get their noses in front after the break until Lloyd’s last-gasp intervention.
“We were the big underdogs and went 1-0 down early but we managed to get it back to 1-1 and that was the score until the 91st minute,” Lloyd said.
“It was looking like the match was going to go to extra-time, but we went up the other end and one of our lads got fouled in the area.
“The referee pointed to the spot and it was down to me to take it.
“There was a lot riding on it obviously, but I managed to stick it away.”
His penalty maintained his proud record of scoring in every round of the competition.
And although he was unable to keep that run going by scoring in the final, he was the man who was collecting the trophy after Knights recorded a another shock win – beating Sorrento 1-0.
They became the first side from outside of the Western Australian Premier Division to win the State Cup since 1991
“It was just a great season,” said Lloyd.
“The club has won the Premier Division in the past and although we won the division below that this season, I think it’s the first time the club has done the league and cup double.”
Unfortunately, Knights did not get their dream draw of A-League opposition in the last 32 of the FFA Cup, although they still enjoyed a trip to the east coast of the country.
“We got drawn away to Gold Coast City,” said Lloyd, who works in the construction industry and also coaches in his spare time.
“We got a flight over to Brisbane on the east coast, which was good. We lost 3-1 to them, but it was still a great experience.”
Lloyd has spent the past six years living in Australia, deciding to make the move Down Under after his career in England stalled.
Signed by Morecambe after leaving Parklands High School, in Chorley, Lloyd progressed through the ranks with the Shrimps.
He made his first-team debut at the age of 18 as a substitute in a 4-0 away win over Barnet in the Conference during the 2005-06 season.
The following year he played a small but vital part as the club memorably won promotion to the Football League.
He scored three goals in 10 appearances, featuring in both legs of the Shrimps’ play-off semi-final victory over York City.
But unfortunately, he was cut from the squad by boss Sammy McIlroy for the final at Wembley as Morecambe defeated Exeter City 2-1.
“I came on as a sub in the play-off first leg at their place which we drew 0-0 and then I started in the second leg at Christie Park, which we won 2-1. Gary Thompson was carrying an injury and I came in for him for the second leg.
“I obviously travelled with the squad to Wembley, but our manager Sammy McIlroy was keen to get Thommo him back fit for the final.
“He came back in for Wembley and actually scored.
“It was disappointing to miss out on being involved at Wembley, especially as I had played in both legs of the semi.
“But I kind of knew there was a chance that Thommo would come back into the team for Wembley.
“He’d had such a good season and they were desperately trying to get him back.
“But even though I was not in the matchday squad, going to Wembley was still a great experience and something I can look back upon with pride.”
Despite his Wembley heartbreak, Lloyd was still very much in McIlroy’s thoughts and made a number of appearances in League Two as the Shrimps adapted to life as a Football League club.
However, he was pushed out of the first-team picture the following season and moved to Forest Green Rovers.
Subsequent spells at Stourbridge and Bamber Bridge ensued, before embarking on his Australian adventure.
“I enjoyed my time at Morecambe,” Lloyd said.
“To be fair, being a young player in and around that team was great for me.
“And being out here in Australia, it has been good to draw back on that experience of playing in the Football League and at a professional standard with Morecambe.
“This season I have played in some really big games, but my past experiences ensured I haven’t been overawed by the big occasion.”