DUCK recently interviewed ex-Stoke winger and modern day Potters hero Liam Lawrence, now at Shrewsbury Town – in other words, we literally went to see a man about a dog….

Liam, it’s early season and you’ve just been made captain of your new club – how are you feeling – the 32 year-old legs holding up?

Yeah – you saw me in training then (at least one 2-footed tackle was thrown in from where we were) – I’m loving it and working as hard as ever. I get the odd niggle, but I’m rearing to go and can’t wait for the next match. 

Tell us about your early life and interest in football…

I was always football-mad and a huge Man United fan because of my dad – Stoke fans won’t like that will they??!?!! Football saved me to be honest – I was a terror at school, always in trouble and some of the teachers hated me. Not the P.E. teachers though – I was alright with them! I was on the books at Nottingham Forest as a teenager – I was born in Retford, not too far away, so locally they were the biggest club. They released me when I was about 18 and I was gutted – it killed me.

Your career breakthrough came at Mansfield Town, 1999-2004…

Yeah, I had a great time and did really well (136 games, 35 goals and 1 promotion). I loved the place and my family still live in the area, so I visit them often but haven’t found the time to watch Mansfield since those days, yet.

I missed a penalty in a play-off final against Huddersfield – I went for the chip and I missed which was devastating but to be fair, one of the other lads had missed already so it wasn’t the decisive one!  Mick McCarthy at Sunderland then showed an interest and I moved for £275k after a transfer tribunal.

Sunderland must have been a huge step up?

Just a bit – they were in the Championship, but everything was massive – the stadium, the fanbase, the expectations – a different world really. Everything was geared up for the Premier League and luckily we did it in that first season, going up as Champions.

Mick was sound – he called a spade a spade and you knew where you stood with him – always straightforward and honest with you, which players appreciate. The next season was a disaster though – we got just 15 points and were relegated. Basically, the gaffer was hardly given any cash and we fell way behind everybody else. I didn’t play too badly personally and ended up second in the supporter’s player of the season vote behind Dean Whitehead.

Then Roy Keane came in as manager at the start of 2006/07and you weren’t there much longer…

No, (offers a wry smile), we just didn’t get on at all. His philosophy was just like nothing else I’d known and he could be really cold with players. We had an argument on a Thursday one week and by the Saturday I was at Stoke! Having said that, if I saw Roy in the street now, I’d say hello and there would be no problem. That’s just how football goes sometimes.

How did the move to Stoke materialise?

My agent called Tony Pulis the day after my bust up with Keane and it was on straight away – he was dead interested in me. I was in the squad for the Hull match on the Saturday. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. My relationship with Tony Pulis was fantastic – he is a good guy and he always got the best out of players- it’s like comparing night and day when comparing him with Keane. It helped that I played regularly of course!

I enjoyed the first season at Stoke (5 goals in 27 games) and we just missed the play-offs but I thought we had what it took to go one better and we did the next season.

Which games stand out from the 2007/ 08 promotion season?

Scunthorpe away – that midweek one where we won 3-2 and I scored the winner late on – think it was Danny Pugh’s first game for us.  We were awful first half and I think we were 2-1 down – the performance was disgusting.

At half-time Pulis ripped into us and told us none of us were guaranteed the shirt the next game and we’d all have big problems. Anyway, we did it – I bagged a header and the dressing room was brilliant afterwards. That never-say-die attitude was there all the way through.

Then there was my hat-trick at Barnsley on Boxing Day – that was epic – something like the 96th minute for the equaliser, but we did not know when we were beaten. With Ric and Mama up front, we were a nightmare to play against.  Ipswich at home earlier in the season was important – my best finish was that game I reckon – a screamer outside the box and that was the first time I remember thinking that the Brit was really starting to get big crowds.  When I first signed – there was usually only 13,000 there.

Wolves away was great – Riccy Fuller was on fire – he scored an amazing goal that day and we destroyed them. In the final few weeks, I felt confident we’d do it.

What happened with the Southampton away game – didn’t Peter Coates help you out?

Yeah – it was the birth our first child. We were halfway to the south coast on the team coach when I got the phone call from home telling me that my wife was going into labour. I told Tony Pulis I had to go straight to the hospital in Crewe and he said fair enough – you’ve got to be there if that’s what you want.

So I got dropped off at some service station and got a taxi to Leighton Hospital – it cost over £300! Everything had gone well with the birth and I got a phone call from the gaffer at 1 am – he told me the chairman was picking me up at 8 in the morning! The missus was fine – the family was there to support her so that was that. I arrived in time for the game but I was absolutely f****d! We ended up losing 3-2 and I came off for the last 20 minutes I think because I was useless – just completely shattered. You wouldn’t believe how much a good night’s kip matters when you are playing at that level.

Stokies remember your winner at Coventry – a great mental and a real turning point …

I only came on the bench for the last 20 minutes. We weren’t playing well and I had a twinge in my thigh but I was desperate to get on the pitch. The gaffer told me not to risk it but I persuaded him to bring me on. The feeling after that goal was something else – it takes some coming down after a high like that.

The atmosphere afterwards in the squad was top notch. I knew 100% we wouldn’t let it slip after that. We got what we needed at Colchester, then at home to Leicester with the pitch invasion, we were up. Getting player of the season was another superb feeling and the open top bus tour around the city topped it all off.

I know Stoke-on-Trent isn’t glamorous but I was brought up in a working-class environment and that’s what I love. I filmed the whole thing on my camcorder and often watch it back – the missus keeps it safely locked away at home.

How did the players celebrate promotion?

A few of us headed off to Magaluf and spent most of the time in Lineker’s bar there. Me, Glenn Whelan, John Parkin, Andy Griffin and a few others. It was an amazing time after a long season and we enjoyed it. A few drinks and what we wanted on the jukebox.

I remember Parky (aka ‘The Beast’) dancing half-naked on the pool table more than anything else!

 For supporters the first season back in the top-flight was as good as it gets – but you were injured a lot…

It was another great season. What we all loved was proving people wrong. Everyone was slating us – for the small pitch – Delap’s throws, long ball and all that. But we loved defying all of the critics. The first match against Villa was special – I scored the first from the spot and made some history before Riccy scored that wonder goal and Mama grabbed the winner – a great day.

There was a lot of talk about your ankle injury – was it really caused by an accident with your dog?!

Ha, ha, ha, Yeah, it was! A genuinely stupid injury and a complete accident.

There was loads of talk and I read different stories about what was supposed to have happened – that sort of thing is frustrating but you get used to it and there’s nothing you can do about it. After that, it took a while to get fully fit and back in the team but there were some good moments towards the end of the season.

I scored the winner against Blackburn in front of the Boothen End and that was a massive release. All of the emotions came out then and that goal meant a lot. Some people had written me off and said I’d put weight on and was out of the shape. Far from it – my body fat had actually decreased but the muscle mass had increased – lots of footballers do that when they’re injured because you spend so much rehab time in the gym.

And then we knew we were safe after the win at Hull. I knew that Marco Tardelli, Trappattoni’s assistant for Ireland was watching and it was a good chance to make an impression. In the second-half, Ric had the ball and I demanded it off him then took it forward and just smashed it into the top corner – it felt amazing and we knew we’d proved everyone wrong again.

You broke into the Ireland squad towards the end of that season – a good experience ?

100% – I loved it and have absolutely no regrets. 15 caps, 2 goals and a great honour.  Just loads of happy memories – the family often came to watch. Glenn Whelan was there with me, I roomed with Stephen Kelly and Robbie Keane was always the joker – a great laugh. As you’d expect, the standard was good – in every single game, whoever you played against. The 2-2 draw against Italy was the highlight in that World Cup qualifier – a special night.

Our second season in the Premier League was another good one for the club but you were in and out of the team…

I can understand why – the gaffer was desperate to keep it solid with Rory’s long throw – him or Deano often played on the right. I’d only signed a long-term contract a few months earlier and my relationship with the manager was still great but I was just desperate to play so eventually I went to him and asked to leave.

He said that he loved me as a player and as a person – he asked me to stay and bide my time. I couldn’t sit on the bench though so I was after a move. It was difficult just getting a few minutes here and there and when you are on the pitch and your match-fitness has dropped, it’s tough.

I was scared of not doing myself or the fans justice. Looking back now, I regret leaving – it was the biggest mistake of my career and I should have been more patient. Then I ended up at Portsmouth with Dave Kitson. I just said to ‘Kits’ – I got on well with him – sod it, let’s go down there together and give it a go. It was part of the Mark Wilson deal the other way. The money troubles were crazy down there.

How did the move to Greece come about?

Some Championship clubs in England were interested but the money they were offering was crap. PAOK were a really big club with a big ground and fanbase – they are crazy about football.

Thessaloniki is a nice part of the world as well, obviously. I loved it there and gave it everything. Some foreign players came over to the Greek league for the easy life and picked up a pay packet for not very much, but I always worked my nuts off for the team and the supporters definitely appreciated that. The family stayed at home in Wychwood Park where I still live now and I was on my own, but I’m a big boy – it was fine.

Life came back down to earth with a bump then though – on loan at Barnsley. They were relegated and it wasn’t a great time. 

What are your hopes/plans in the game now?

Firstly, we need to get Shrewsbury back out of this league – we are definitely realistic promotion candidates. When I signed here, it was part of the deal that I’d have some coaching experience and get my badges done. I do fancy being a manager – taking charge of Stoke at some point would be good! As a manger, the one thing I’d demand is 100% effort every day, week in week out. At all clubs – even Stoke occasionally, there’d be 2 or 3 not pulling their weight in the odd training session and I can’t stand laziness.

Does that go for professionalism as well – didn’t Glenn Whelan give Abdoule Faye (of all people) a kick up the arse once at Chelsea?

Yeah – exactly. He did – Wheelo was dead professional so those flip flops didn’t go down well with him – it just sends out the wrong message. There no excuses for having high standards. You can have fun without being unprofessional.

QUICK-FIRE LAWRENCE:

Most underrated player: Mama

Most overrated player: No comment!

Joker: Carl Dickinson

Hardman: Riccy Fuller – he’s one tough cookie

Tricky full-back: Louis Enrique at Liverpool – I could never get past him. I did well against Patrice Evra though!

Best trainer: Me … or Ryan Shawcross – when he isn’t putting ice on another injury

Worst trainer: No comment – not many at Stoke compared to other places though

Best manager: Tony Pulis

Favourite ground/ best atmosphere: The Brit and I’m not just saying that.

Treasured possession: Championship winner’s trophy with Sunderland – and the Stoke bus tour camera footage

Nightlife King: Riccy, Dicko, or me – we’d often meet up in Touch bar in Hanley

James Beattie and Tony Pulis – what happened? We all know – I’m saying nothing, but we all know what’s out there if you want to read about it!

Pigs head in dressing room locker – too far? No, not at all – but you’ve got to know which players can handle which type of joke.

Riccy smacking Andy Griffin at West Ham – your reaction? We all forgot about it on the same day. In the dressing room afterwards, it was dealt with, boxed off and never mentioned. It really does happen every week in training. We moved on – no problem.

Your private life in the news – how does it affect you? Yep – I know what you’re talking about and I hate that some people only talk about me for that reason. I was single at the time – mistakes were made, and a national newspaper couldn’t wait to pounce. It was a long time ago.

What annoys you in football? Some players these days seem happy to be part of a 25-man squad, sit on the bench and pick up big money. It’s annoying. To be fair- without wanting to be disrespectful – I do think it’s often the non-British players. It’s sometimes a different mentality.