INTERNATIONAL ENJOYED ‘TRIP’ TO SOUTH WEST



FOOTBALLERS are always aware of the risk of injury, it’s an occupational hazard.

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Liam Lawrence in action for Bristol Rovers. Picture: ML Pictures

But, aside from the standard mishaps that can occur during a match, there are also a crop of players who have been the victim of what can only be termed ‘freak accidents’ off the pitch.

For example, Arsenal’s Charlie George once cut off a toe while mowing his lawn; David Beasant was out of action for eight weeks after dropping a bottle of salad cream on his foot and severing a tendon, while fellow keeper David James (I still haven’t tracked him down for this column) pulled a muscle in his back while reaching for the tv remote.

And, there are many more victims, including today’s Memory Lane guest, Republic of Ireland international Liam Lawrence, who finished last season in the colours of Bristol Rovers, some years after being an entry in the accident book of off-field mishaps.

‘I was playing for Stoke at the time and it was going well,’ said Lawrence, when I got in touch with him at his Cheshire home.

‘We had a pet Labrador who would often lie down on the stairs. I was coming down, tripped over him and was out for some time with a bad ankle injury, (and) had to have surgery. The manager was not best pleased!’

Some years before his unfortunate mishap, Lawrence had begun his football career with local club Mansfield Town, rising through the youth ranks to become a regular first-teamer.

His eight topsy-turvy years with the Stags would see him make more than 150 appearances, experience the joys of promotion and the disappointments of relegation and play-off final defeats.

But his stand out form had not gone unnoticed and in June 2004, Sunderland paid out a fee of around £175,000 to take Lawrence to the North East.

‘I’d played against Sunderland for Mansfield and had a good game, so I suppose I was on their radar,’ he explained.
‘Sunderland are a massive club and the crowds love their football up there, very passionate.’

Lawrence made 80 appearances for the Black Cats, often alongside a certain Marcus Stewart, and would help the club gain promotion to the top flight, although they yo-yoed back the following year.

A falling out with Roy Keane is never a good career move and, following his difference of opinion with then Sunderland manager, the abrasive former Manchester United star, Lawrence departed to Stoke City on loan in November 2006, the deal made permanent the following January.

The Potters just missed out on a play-off place that season, but the following year were celebrating success and promotion to the Premier League.

‘I had the best three years of my career, a great time,’ said Lawrence, who scored Stoke’s first home Premier League goal.
‘Wonderful days, a real eye opener. Tony Pulis, a good honest manager who taught me a lot.’

Lawrence made 125 appearances for the club, a figure that would undoubtedly have been more but for that unfortunate tumble down the stairs, but in August 2010, he was on his way to Championship side Portsmouth. He would have no way of knowing that the club was on the verge of financial implosion.

‘I went to Pompey along with team-mate Dave Kitson in an exchange deal that saw Marc Wilson go the opposite way,’ he recalled.
‘Obviously we had no way of knowing that the club was on the verge of bankruptcy.

‘Later, they went into administration and had to move out all their senior players. We really didn’t have any choice. Stay and the club would go into liquidation.’

With Pompey’s best interests at heart, Lawrence joined Cardiff for the rest of the season, at the end of which he moved overseas, joining Greek side PAOK.

‘After all the difficulties at Portsmouth, it was the chance of a fresh challenge in a new country and the chance to play in the Europa League.

There had been no real openings in England and I enjoyed the experience of playing in Greece, though it could be difficult in the summer, playing in blistering heat.’

Keen to return to the UK, Lawrence joined Barnsley in January 2014. ‘I needed to get back playing in England, though Barnsley was quite a contrast to PAOK.

‘The side was struggling and would go on to be relegated, but they were a good little club all the same.’

Lawrence’s next move was to prove more successful, 18 months with Shrewsbury Town, which included promotion, with Lawrence appointed captain of the team.

‘The manager, Micky Mellon (former Bristol City player and a guest in this column some time ago) had been a coach at Barnsley, so knew what I could bring to the club.’

In January 2016, after 62 games for the Shrews, Lawrence arrived in BS7, signing for Rovers.

‘I’d kept in touch with Darrell Clarke and, although I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, I have to admit I wasn’t fully fit for some of my time there,’ he pointed out.

‘I often commuted to the family home in Cheshire and other times I would stay with team-mate James Clarke, taking turns with the cooking and housework.

‘We became really good friends.’

Lawrence steered Rovers to a second successive promotion. ‘I’d like to think that my experience helped some of the younger lads,’ said Lawrence.

‘And I was impressed with the support at the club, brilliant fans, very demanding, but brilliant.’

A year after his arrival at The Mem, Lawrence left the club by mutual consent, having made 17 appearances (one goal) for ‘The Gas’, his final appearance coming in a 5-0 home win over Northampton in early January.

Looking back on his career, which took in eight English clubs and more than 500 senior appearances, Lawrence is proud of his 15 caps for the Republic of Ireland (Lawrence qualifying courtesy of his Kerry-born grandfather.)

‘I played in some big games and I suppose the one that stands out is against France, when Thierry Henry scored that well documented handball goal,’ he said.

Left somewhat in limbo since leaving Rovers, Lawrence has taken his ‘A’ Licence coaching badges and was, at the time of our get-together, awaiting news on a coaching position.

Home is still in Cheshire, where he has been for the past ten years or so, with wife Rebecca and sons Thomas (aged ten, and already on the books at Crewe) and Kian (five).

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.