“Back on yer bloody line, Lawrence!” The advice came from the all-singing, all-swaying Kop when Tommy Lawrence began patrolling the outer limit of Liverpool’s penalty area during games instead of the edge of the six-yard box or the goal-line, where convention dictated goalkeepers stood in the 1960s.
Decades later, recalling the fans’ incomprehension, Lawrence explained he was acting on the orders of Liverpool’s fabled manager Bill Shankly. The logic was that the Scotland international – a frustrated centre-forward – would effectively be an extra defender. His team-mate Ian Callaghan remembered him tackling strikers like a centre-half. Lawrence’s recollection was typically humorous and honest: “I used to bring ’em down. If they pushed the ball past me, I just hit ’em.”
Joe Mercer, later to have a brief spell as England manager, dubbed him “Sweeper Keeper” as early as 1966. He owed his more widespread nickname “The Flying Pig” to a bulky physique, yet Shankly remained faithful to him from 1962 until 1970, during which time Lawrence won two Football League championship winner’s medals, the FA Cup for the first time in Liverpool’s history and three caps for his country.
Lawrence, who has died aged 77, was born in Ayrshire but his family moved to England when he was a child. On leaving school he worked in Rylands wire factory at Warrington and kept goal for Stockton Heath Albion. After attracting the attention of Liverpool he signed for the club – then languishing in the Second Division under manager Phil Taylor – in 1957, soon after his 17th birthday.
He had to wait until October 1962, when he was 22, for his first-team chance. Liverpool lost 1-0 at West Bromwich but Shankly was impressed. In Lawrence’s first full season, 1963-64, his consistency, courage, handling and temperament shone through, along with a perhaps surprising agility – most notably when Liverpool clinched the League title in the spring of 1964.
Shankly’s side led Arsenal 1-0 when the Gunners were awarded a penalty on the half-hour. George Eastham, renowned for his precision, took the kick only for Lawrence to dive and save. By the hour mark Liverpool were leading 5-0 and at the final whistle were crowned champions as Beatles songs cascaded from the Kop.
Lawrence missed only five games in eight seasons, playing 390 times for Liverpool. Ray Clemence, the future England keeper, endured two and a half years as his understudy until an FA Cup defeat at Watford saw Shankly drop Lawrence and two other mainstays, Ron Yeats and Ian St John. He made just one further appearance before being crossing the Mersey to Tranmere Rovers in 1971. After three years and 80 matches he joined non-league Chorley and returned to Rylands as a quality controller.
Scotland first selected him in 1963 for a 1-0 defeat away to the Republic of Ireland. He was not recalled for six years, playing in a 1-1 draw with West Germany in a World Cup qualifier and a 5-3 win over Wales in which he was carried off after colliding with the goal frame.
In 2015 a BBC reporter compiling a vox pop stopped a seemingly anonymous shopper to ask if he remembered an FA Cup derby at Everton in 1967, which was relayed back to a big screen at Anfield. “Yeah, I do,” said Tommy Lawrence, his face breaking into a warm, unassuming smile that delighted a huge internet audience. “I played in it.”
Thomas Johnstone Lawrence, football player, born 14 May 1940, died 10 January 2018