Tuesday 20 March 2018

Former Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence to be remembered as a pioneer

Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence, left, rushes out to snuff out an attack
Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence, left, rushes out to snuff out an attack

Tommy Lawrence was not only the last line of defence for Bill Shankly's first great Liverpool team, he was also something of a pioneer - a sweeper keeper in England before they became i n vogue.

Lawrence, who died at the age of 77 on Wednesday, won three major titles at Anfield during the 1960s and kept Ray Clemence, arguably the Reds' greatest ever goalkeeper, out of the team for two-and-a-half years.

He was also a Scotland international, born not far from where Shankly himself hailed, not that his background was immediately obvious with an accent tweaked from moving to the north-west as a youngster.

A Liverpool trainee, Lawrence graduated to become a trusted lieutenant of Shankly's for eight years having made his debut in 1962. His athleticism despite his stocky frame earned him the moniker 'The Flying Pig' and his ability to rush out and clear up behind the Reds' defence led one-time England manager Joe Mercer to claim Lawrence was the top-flight's first sweeper keeper.

In an interview with the club, Lawrence had revealed: "(Shankly) said, 'You know the way you've been playing in five-a-side, tackling and clearing it all the time, doing all the running for us at the back. We're going to try something this week'.

"I had to play outside the 18-yard box and as soon as the game started all I could hear was 30,000 Kopites, 'Lawrence! Get back in your goal!'. In the end we were losing less goals than anybody."

His successor Clemence was signed from Scunthorpe in 1967 despite reservations he would not play because of Lawrence's form. Shankly told him Lawrence would not hold the spot for much longer. But he did, for a further two-and-a-half years.

Having featured in 390 games for Liverpool, during which time he won two league titles and an FA Cup, Lawrence went to Tranmere and then non-league Chorley before working as a factory quality controller in Warrington.

Lawrence featured for Shankly's side more times than Mr Liverpool Ronnie Moran, Graeme Souness or Mark Lawrenson and as unmistakable as he was on the pitch, he was unrecognisable just three years ago when a BBC reporter was asking passers-by if they remembered the 1967 Merseyside derby against Everton.

A small smile broke across Lawrence's face when he was asked if he could recall the fixture.

"That's right, I do," he replied. "I played in it. I was (the) goalkeeper for Liverpool!"

Press Association

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