Biography of trailblazing Liverpool legend Tommy Lawrence is a real keeper

The late, great Tommy Lawrence – who won two league titles at Anfield and was one of the few footballers known by two different nicknames – is remembered in a new book by Peter Kenny Jones, reviewed by Eric Brown


Many footballers have been awarded nicknames which became as familiar as their real names.

Stanley Matthews was known as ‘The Wizard of Dribble’, Tom Finney as the ‘Preston Plumber’, John Charles as ‘The Gentle Giant and David Beckham as ‘Goldenballs’.

Almost every dressing room contains at least one player better known by his slang moniker than the name on his birth certificate. The risque ones will never appear in the sports pages.

However, it is rare for even the most illustrious footballers to carry two nicknames of equal importance.

So step forward former Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence, dubbed “Sweeper Keeper” and “The Flying Pig” during his illustrious Liverpool career from 1962 to 1970.

Lawrence emerged as one of the Football League’s outstanding goalkeepers when Bill Shankly transformed Liverpool from a mediocre second-division outfit to a European force with a wave of his magic managerial wand.

Contemporary students of football may imagine that goalkeepers advancing fearlessly from their penalty areas with the ball at their feet are relatively new phenomena. Not a bit of it.

Lawrence was doing it before The Beatles had a number one hit. His confidence on the ball was such that he rarely kept goal in training, preferring to play in an outfield position.

The astute Shankly realised his skills could be utilised in match combat and ordered Lawrence to play outside his area while the rest of the team pushed up.

When this tactic was first unveiled, the Kop faithful reacted with horror, yelling for Lawrence to get back in goal. However, they soon realised it was working as opponents had so little time and space behind the Liverpool back line.

The “Sweeper Keeper” was christened as such by Everton legend Joe Mercer and quickly accepted at Anfield.

The origin of Lawrence’s second nickname remains unknown, despite diligent research by Peter Kenny Jones for his book “Sweeper Keeper: Tommy Lawrence – The Story of Liverpool and Scotland’s Legendary Flying Pig.”

Watch author Peter Kenny Jones and fellow Reds talk about Tommy Lawrence (via The Red Press LFC)

Some of Lawrence’s Liverpool teammates insist he was given the name within the dressing room but others interviewed by Jones maintain they would never have been so disrespectful and it came from supporters.

Lawrence, Jones discovered, weighed 13 stones during his Liverpool career but it has been suggested his green jersey made him look heavier.

Whatever the truth, it did not stop him flying around his goal pulling off miraculous saves appreciated by his colleagues.

In his book, Jones reveals Lawrence to have been a happy-go-lucky, down-to-earth character whose idea of post-match entertainment was a pint of beer and sausage and mash in front of the telly at home. Sadly, he was homeless within 10 years of leaving Liverpool.

Perhaps not the most organised individual, Lawrence always tried to please the fans. When a group called at his house one evening asking to see his League and FA Cup medals, he readily agreed and invited them in.

The fans looked in vain for a trophy cabinet and one nervously asked where the medals could be found. “Oh, there’s one under my socks in the drawer over there and you might find another down the side of the sofa with one of my international caps,” he replied.

So it is no real surprise that Lawrence’s family are still trying to locate some of his match souvenirs long after he died badly affected by dementia in January 2018.

Particularly sought after are those connected with Liverpool’s first FA Cup win in 1965. Lawrence gave his pre-match tracksuit to a friend and his shirt to another pal. It was returned to the Lawrence family when this pal died.

However, his family are still trying to track down The Flying Pig’s cup winner’s medal from that day, when Shankly’s men beat Leeds 2-1 after extra-time in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley.

They appeal, through the book, for anyone knowing its whereabouts to get in touch or for anyone knowing about any Tommy Lawrence memorabilia to do so.

Sweeper Keeper or Flying Pig, Lawrence remains a true football trailblazer and deserves to be remembered.

‘Sweeper Keeper: Tommy Lawrence – The Story of Liverpool and Scotland’s Legendary Flying Pig’ by Peter Kenny Jones is published by Pitch Publishing, priced ÂŁ25.

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