Tommy Lawrence: The story of Liverpool’s legendary sweeper ‘keeper

Despite his many years of sterling service to Liverpool FC, it still feels like Tommy Lawrence doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves.

The Scot, affectionately nicknamed The Flying Pig by Reds supporters during his 1960s Anfield playing days, signed professional forms with the club as a 17-year-old on October 30, 1957, leaving his job at the Rylands wire factory in Warrington in order to do so. It was a job he would return to at the end of his playing career, 17 years later.

He would have to wait almost exactly five years for his first team bow, but his patience was rewarded on October 27, 1962, following an injury to then first-choice goalkeeper Jim Furnell.

In his book, Shanks: The Authorised Biography of Bill Shankly, Dave Bowler spoke of how it had always been the Scottish boss’ intention to bring in his young compatriot “once he had accumulated enough experience in the reserves”.

The years to come would see the stocky No.1 play a key part in maximising the Merseysiders’ on-field effectiveness. Within the same book, Tommy Smith described how his own introduction into the first-team’s defensive setup in the mid-’60s contributed to “what was really the start of the flat back-four in this country”, and how the system they deployed would see the back line stay “dead flat”.

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This would often see opponents caught offside, but Lawrence would act as the most dynamic of safety nets if the flag didn’t go up.

“If the back-four had been very very square on a through-ball, Tommy would be out of his goal and tackling either the strikers or the wingers,”  explained Ron Yeats when speaking to LFC TV for their ‘100 Players Who Shook The Kop’ series in the mid-2000s.

Per, Lawrence summarised what was asked of him by the manager: “Shankly said ‘right Tommy, you’re not playing on the six yard line. When the ball’s on the halfway line, you’ve got to be on the 18-yard line. If the ball shoots through, you’ve got to be out to kick it — a sort of stopper’.”

This was something which allowed the team to push higher up the pitch and defend from the front more easily — it sounds uncannily familiar to the modern-day incarnation.

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Tommy Lawrence playing for Liverpool FC against Manchester United at Old Trafford circa 1970. Photo: Ray Green/Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Between 1963 and 1969, Lawrence would miss just four league matches and played a key role in winning the First Division title in 1964 and 1966, as well as the Reds’ much sought-after first FA Cup success in 1965.

That same year, he was also part of the side that reached the semi-finals in Liverpool’s first ever European Cup campaign. What is widely seen as Anfield’s first great European night saw Shankly’s side beat holders Inter 3-1 in an enthralling first-leg, but Lawrence and co would be on the wrong end of the Italians’ might in the San Siro return.

The decisive 3-0 win by Helenio Herrera’s charges provided a prime example of their savviness, but it is a game that has also gone down in infamy.

Mario Corso struck an early opener past Lawrence direct from what originally looked to have been an indirect free-kick and, a few minutes later, the lead was doubled when Joaquin Peiro took the ball from the goalkeeper as he bounced it and swept it into the unguarded net. Giacinto Faccetti would later notch the third to seal the Nerazzurri’s place in the final.

Investigations since into actions taken by both Inter officials and Ortiz de Mendibil, the Spanish referee, during that era only raise suspicions of foul play, but mystery — more than anything else — continues to surround that particular tie.

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Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence attempts to save a shot against Manchester United at Old Trafford, circa 1964. Photo: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Either way, it would prove to be one Liverpool would learn from in the long-term. Ray Clemence, rather than Lawrence, would be the goalkeeper to witness many of the benefits first-hand though.

The latter would concede a then record low of 24 goals during a season in 1968/69, but a changing of the guard was afoot.

He would remain at the club until 1971 and was a regular up until around 1970, but Shankly was increasingly aware of the need for transition within the first-team as bedrocks of the 1960s side like Roger Hunt, Ian St John and, indeed, Lawrence entered their thirties.

It also seems to have been the case that the legendary boss — who apparently found this process understandably painful — was increasingly concerned by his goalkeeper’s weight-gain.

In order to get first-team football, Lawrence joined Tranmere Rovers upon leaving Anfield. Three years at Prenton Park followed before he rounded his career off with a one-season stint as player-coach at non-league outfit Chorley.

Then, it was back to the wire factory in Warrington, this time as a quality controller.

He did briefly come to the fore again in February 2015 though, and in superbly coincidental fashion. BBC reporter Stuart Flinders was conducting a vox pop in Liverpool about a 1967 FA Cup Fifth Round Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, ahead of the sides clashing at the same venue later that month.

As it happened, one of those that he stopped was Lawrence. When asked by Flinders whether he remembered the game, the Scot cheerily replied: “Yeah I do, I played in it. I was goalkeeper for Liverpool.” It was a clip which swiftly became popular worldwide.

Lawrence sadly passed away aged 77 on January 10, 2018, with Anfield paying a fittingly grateful tribute to him later that week prior to the 4-3 home win against Manchester City.

There looks to be a solid case for saying the Scot significantly progressed both Liverpool — and elements of football itself — in the way that he played. Much of that case, of course, can be found in the modern game and its ‘keepers.

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James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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