Think of Stoke City’s better EFL Championship years and their fair stint among the elite in the English topflight, and the name ‘Liam Lawrence’ may not even come to mind. Hmm, let’s address that …
It’s a sunny Tuesday evening in early September. The Republic of Ireland and South Africa are battling it out in a friendly in a low key autumn international. It’s just over nine months until the World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg with the latter team automatically qualifying. The home side, however, have not yet secured their place at the finals. The players are nervy, you can sense the anxiety within the squad and among the fans in the stadium.
Alas, after a rather uneventful 36 minutes, a free kick is awarded to the Irish and none other than Liam Lawrence steps up to take the hit. Until then, very few had really heard of Liam Lawrence. And to this day, it’s probably still the case. However, what he does in the next few moments of this game is something to treasure for any football fan. Lawrence turns momentarily into prime Beckham and whips the ball straight to the back of the net from about 32 yards out. The home side win 1-0. They don’t qualify for the World Cup. That is, indeed, a story for another day.
The fact that the Republic of Ireland team had a player of such quality that could showcase this type of skill is quite baffling alone. What is more baffling is that Lawrence was only ever awarded 15 caps by the international side. His club career however, is rather colourful and at the time of this Beckham-esque display, he was playing for Stoke City in the Premier League. Let’s take a moment to reflect on that Stoke team of circa 2009. Tony Pulis’ side are rarely thought of as one of the classic league teams go down in history but they do deserve some credit for entertaining football if nothing else.
Stoke held the likes of Tuncay, Ricardo Fuller, James Beattie and Glenn Whelan within their ranks. Not exactly massive household names yet all had a powerful part to play in producing appealing football for Stoke. Let’s not forget Robert Huth in the back line also, who was always a decent option for Fantasy Football, and Rory Delap who could win an Olympic medal for his long throw-ins. The team finished 11th in that 09-10 season and reached the FA Cup quarter finals too with Lawrence in scintillating form in his favourite right-wing spot.
The man notched 15 goals in that particular period following a fantastic run of form, was a fan favourite and even won Stoke’s Player of the Season award. Mr. Liam Lawrence was clearly shining in this squad and looked at full ease within the team. If you look back at his goals from this time, he has some pretty decent ones in his locker.
The man could do anything; penalties, headers, free kicks, long range – he had the lot! Just before this, he spent some time with Sunderland however following an alleged bust up with Roy Keane who was manager at the time, his spell there came to an abrupt end. Keane highlighted this in his book, The Second Half, admitting that the pair had a massive disagreement over a fairly innocent episode on the training ground. Let’s be honest, we’d all pack our bags and run if Keaneo wasn’t on our side!
After his spell with Stoke, Lawrence moved along to Portsmouth and signed for a handful of lower tiered clubs, including Shrewsbury and Barnsley, before retiring in 2017. Quite erratically, he transferred to Greek side PAOK where he played from 2012-2014 and also had a decent run, scoring some impressive goals including an incredible volley against Aris F.C (definitely worth looking up!).
Although Lawrence didn’t make a real name for himself in the Premier League, he’s certainly a player that deserves some credit for his versatility and passion for the game. Stoke fans will remember him for being an entertainer, a remarkable winger and quite incredible in front of goal. He may not have been able to fend off the French in that unforgettable World Cup play-off but again, that’s a story for another day!