Tommy Lawrence, goalkeeping pioneer, family man and a champion who made the people happy

Tommy Lawrence made a total of 390 appearances in goal for Liverpool, between 1957 and 1971. In that time he pioneered a new role for goalkeepers, in which he would act as a sweeper, often rushing from his line in order to ‘smash’ the opposition strikers (as he put it) and also helped the club to win two league titles and its first ever FA Cup in 1965. He is as deserving of the title ‘Liverpool legend’ as any man who has donned the jersey for the club. So, it is my honour to have been able to speak to his sister Mary and two of his children, Stephen and Tracy, who very kindly shared their memories and stories of the man who, to them, was much more than a footballer.

Tommy was born in 1940, in the South Ayrshire town of Dailly. He was the middle child, with an older brother called Billy and younger sister, Mary. His parents, Frank and Ruby Lawrence, moved the family to Warrington when the children were young and Tommy grew up in the North West of England.

His was a typically working class life. His sister Mary recalls how he left school at 15 and began work as an office clerk at Adam Lythgoe Ltd, on Hob Hey Lane, in Warrington. His father had been a chauffeur to the owner, Joe Lythgoe.

Tommy had harboured dreams of becoming a footballer from an early age though, and his father had taken him to a number of local teams, hoping someone would give him a chance. Each time he would be told to come back when he had grown a bit.

Stephen, Tommy’s son, remembers a story his Dad told him of how Roger Hunt –prolific Reds striker of the 1960s – once took Tommy to Warrington Town for a trial, as a striker.

‘I remember my Dad telling me that the Warrington manager had told Roger not to bring my Dad back, as he was not a good striker. Roger replied “don’t worry he’s signed for Liverpool Football Club as a keeper.”’

Lawrence had been something of a late bloomer, and the required growth spurt wouldn’t arrive until after his 16th birthday. It would see him granted a trial at Liverpool, who were in the English Second Division. The then manager, Phil Taylor, was suitably impressed and snapped up the teenager immediately.

Tommy’s sister, Mary, remembers how the club provided a car, which she called the Rolls Royce, to take him to training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At that time Liverpool trained in the Tuebrook area of the city back then. He continued to work at Lythgoe’s during the day, before being picked up by the club car and transported to Liverpool, where he put in the hours on the training field in the evenings. Tommy would go on to sign professional papers at the age of 17.

Mary recalls, ‘Things were certainly different then, even when he got in the first team, he came home to us every night, to the bedroom he shared with his brother. He still went out in the village with his friends. He didn’t leave home until he was married in 1963.’

Tommy married his first wife, Judith in 1963. They would go on to have three children; Tracey in 1964, Stephen in 1967 and the youngest Jayne who was born in 1970.

Tommy and Judith married in 1963

After becoming a professional, Lawrence would bide his time in the reserves and his break would eventually arrive under the great Bill Shankly, who handed him his first team debut on the 27th October 1962. Sadly it was a forgettable experience for the Reds, as they slumped to a 1-0 away defeat to West Bromwich Albion. But, the die was now cast and a career that would span almost a decade and bring glory to Anfield once more had begun.

Tommy would become Shankly’s number one, and thanks to his generous proportions and agility in the goalmouth, he would affectionately be christened ‘The Flying Pig’ by the Kop. Lawrence made 35 appearances in his first season, and managed his first clean sheet on the 17th November, in a 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient.

Two years later, he was a league champion. Under the influence of Shankly the club had won its first league title since 1947, and just two seasons after winning promotion from the second division. A revolution was under way at Anfield and Tommy Lawrence was at the heart of it.

His son Steven, born five years after that championship win, tells me of the influence Shankly had on his Dad and the club.

‘I think my Dad was quite scared of Shanks. So was most of the team. But they respected him because of what he was doing with the club. He was transforming Liverpool FC into the club it is today.

‘My Dad always told me that before Shanks came in, they used to just run for long periods of time. However, the Scotsman changed all of that and instead made them run with the ball at their feet. He stopped them running on the road too saying, “You’re not training to be road runners, you’re training to be footballers.”’

Despite having a healthy respect for the legendary Scotsman, Tommy and teammate Roger Hunt almost incurred his wrath, when they arrived at Anfield for a game, with just five minutes to spare.

‘My dad used to travel with Roger Hunt to the games, and he told me once that the traffic was so bad one match day, before a game against Manchester City, that him and Roger had to get out of the car and run through the city streets to get to Anfield. They arrived at 2.55pm, for a 3pm kick off.’

Tommy and Roger Hunt racing through the streets to make it in time for kick off

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that dressing room, that day. Fortunately, the referee agreed to delay kick-off a few minutes to allow them time to get changed into their kits. Shankly’s response remains shrouded in the mists of time.

Stephen missed the early years of his Dad’s career, but he has vivid memories of when the realisation that his Dad was a star began to dawn on him.

“I was born in 1967, so the first time I realised that my dad was in the limelight so to speak was when we used to have the press at our door and coming in taking family photos. I remember my dad used to bring home match programmes, which I’d to give out to my friends on Bollin Close where we lived in Culcheth.

‘Lots of people used to come round for family parties and we were invited to other players’ houses a lot. The first time I can remember going to Anfield with my dad was running around the pitch while they were having team photos. I recall someone giving me a Liverpool rosette to wear.

‘My Dad used to take me to the field on Shaw Street in Culcheth, and for some reason I was always in goal. I think he wanted me to take after him, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.’

Tommy, at home with daughter Tracey and son Stephen

However, being the child of a Liverpool footballing legend came with its ups and downs. While enjoying the admiration of his school mates, Steven recalls the strains on the family and his parents’ marriage, as Tommy’s career came to an end.

‘My parents split up when I was young,’ he reveals. ‘I think he found the transition from coming out of football very difficult, which put a strain on their marriage.’

This is perhaps a reminder, that our heroes and legends are human beings. They are subject to the same stresses and strains as the rest of us, and their families pay a price too. Tommy and Judith parted ways after 14 years of marriage in 1977, though he would remarry many years later. However, despite that, Stephen and his sister Tracey have nothing but fond memories of their childhoods and their father.

‘As a man and a Dad we have loads of memories. He was extremely kind and funny. We never remember him telling us off or being angry, he was always so mild mannered.’

Tommy with his youngest daughter, Jayne

Stephen recalls, ‘He used to take me swimming, to Irlam baths, and he would take all my friends too. When he finished football, we had a little money, thanks to opportunities he had as a pundit. He used to take us on adventures, to Crow Wood. We’d go conker picking and on long walks through the fields into Leigh.’

The children didn’t realise at the time, but Tommy was recreating the adventures of his own childhood, ensuring his offspring enjoyed the same sense of joy that he had. And, Tommy’s sense of fun continued throughout his life.

‘Even when he was poorly, towards the end if his life, he would have the nurses and doctors in the hospital in stitches with his stories and his humour,’ recounts Stephen, explaining how his father’s stories kept staff who were caring for him entertained.

Tommy was not of our city, but he was an adopted son of it. He was adored and respected on the Kop and, as his son explains, the feeling was mutual.

‘My dad loved the people of Liverpool and talked about them fondly to the moment he passed. He had so much love for them.’

The family are particularly grateful to Liverpool supporters who continue to keep Tommy’s memory alive. They point to the many tributes shared on social media. They are also grateful to the club who have produced a video of Tommy’s life and career, and gifted to the family. Stephen continues:

‘The people have been brilliant; I used to take my dad to signings, meeting the fans. I sometimes took my lads Adam and Scott. The fans used to ask them to sign things also because their granddad was Tommy Lawrence. They loved it.

Tommy’s grandsons, Adam and Scott holding their granddads 1965 FA Cup Final shirt

‘I can’t thank Liverpool FC and their fans enough for everything they did for us and my dad. Every day it makes us so proud to know our Dad played for Liverpool FC. The only shame is he didn’t get a testimonial for the club after playing so many games.’

Of course, one of the many reasons why Tommy is held in such high esteem by Liverpool supporters is his involvement in the 1965 FA Cup Final. Liverpool had never won the trophy until then, and the outpouring of euphoria in the city was on a scale that put ‘Beatle mania’ in the shade, and would even give the post Istanbul and Madrid homecomings a run for their money.

It also had a profound impact on the players, and none more so than Tommy Lawrence. Stephen remembers fondly how his father would regale him and his sister with tales of that epic triumph.

‘Dad talked about the 65 final a lot. He spoke of walking out in front of the enormous crowd, feeling a little nervous as this was the opportunity that Liverpool had been waiting for, for so long. They had such a great team and they were determined to win the FA Cup for the first time.

‘He recalled it was a quiet final. The weather was horrendous, then suddenly the game came to life when Roger scored. He thought they had won it, as Leeds didn’t look like scoring. Then Billy Bremner hit an unstoppable shot which my Dad could only look at, as it sailed into the top corner. Despite that, they were still very confident of winning though. They all believed they were the much better team than Leeds.

‘When St John scored the winner, my Dad just dropped to his knees. That was the moment he knew they had won it. He told us the trip home was unbelievable, When they got to Lime Street and on to the buses, he recalled the amount of fans waiting for them to return with the Cup. He would never forget, people hanging off lamp posts and hanging out of windows just to get a glimpse of them. It stayed with him his whole life.’

Winners at last. Tommy and his teammates ended an agonising wait for the club’s first FA Cup in 1965

Of course, the victory was not without its misadventures, and Tommy would be at the heart of them. Stephen explains:

‘The story about my Dad losing the bottom of the FA Cup is told a lot, but it’s true. He was given the job of looking after the plinth, but after the game, and a few drinks back at the hotel, Shanks came looking for it. It was nowhere to be found.

‘My dad told the boss he had no idea where it was. Shanks turned to him and said “The first time we win the FA Cup, and he’s lost it.” Thankfully, it was later found. It had been left on the coach and was on its way to Southend.’

Tommy on the pitch at Wembley. Note the FA Cup plinth, which later went on a detour to Southend

Tommy’s sister, Mary, also remembers how important the final was to her brother and indeed the whole family.

‘The 1965 Cup Final was so exciting for us,’ she says. Mum and dad were so proud (Tommy and Mary’s parents); Dad especially, as he had been an aspiring junior footballer himself but never made it. So, what’s the next best thing? That would be his son playing in the cup final of course. In Dad’s eyes, that was only superseded when he played for Scotland.

‘We all went to Wembley in the Rolls Royce. Our uncle and cousin came over from Ireland. Only mum stayed home to look after baby Tracey. It was a great day for all of us.’

Tracey had been born only months earlier, in October 1964. Though, like her brother Stephen, she will have been too young to share in the joy of their father’s early career, she has devoted a considerable amount of effort to ensuring that his footballing legacy lives on. She explains why:

‘When I started doing the Shankly Nights – tribute nights organised to celebrate the achievements of the legendary boss and his players – my Dad loved it because I could hear and repeat the stories of his ‘boys.’ He loved meeting up with them, and thankfully he managed to do that twice before he died.

‘The first was a Shankly Hero’s Night and the second saw him attend the Philharmonic Hall for the premier of the Shankly documentary; Natures Fire. He loved that. And, seeing the respect he had from the younger players like Sammy Lee, Phil Thompson and Jan Molby was incredible.’

However no night out involving Tommy Lawrence could pass without some misadventure. Tracey explains, ‘He managed to lose me at the Philharmonic, while I had gone to collect the car. When I eventually found him outside, he was mobbed by adoring Liverpool fans. He looked like a movie star, like Patrick Swayze at the premier or Dirty Dancing, and surrounded by his admirers. My Dad was beaming, he loved it’

Three generations of the Lawrence family at Anfield

After Liverpool, Tommy went on to play for Tranmere Rovers for three years, before spending a season with Chorley. He sadly passed away on the 10th January 2018. He left behind a treasure trove of footballing memories, stories and of course silverware. He helped bring joy to countless Reds fans. However, he was also a man who loved and was loved by his family, in particular his three children, Tracey, Stephen and Jayne. Thanks to them his legacy will live on for many more years.

So, I’ll leave the last words to his son, Stephen.

‘My Dad, Tommy Lawrence, is a Liverpool legend. He was a true gentleman, very passionate about his heritage and he loved Liverpool Football Club. He made so many friends around the world, just because of who he was.

‘He was shy but loved talking to people, and always had the time of day for people who knew him, and people that wanted to know him. He loved watching his grand kids playing football too. I’d pick him up on match days and take him to football. We’d share a pie and a pint. He is missed by us all and the football family worldwide.’

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