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How a legendary Liverpool goalkeeper apparently played half-cut

BY Peter Kenny Jones

20th Mar 2024 Sport

4 min read

How a legendary Liverpool goalkeeper apparently played half-cut
"I don't think he could play unless he was half-cut", one of Tommy Lawrence's close friends says about the legendary Liverpool goalkeeper
Tommy Lawrence was a mainstay of Bill Shankly's first great Liverpool team and was part of the side that won league titles and the club's first FA Cup in 1965. Known as a quiet and confident goalkeeper by his teammates, this fearlessness may well have been fuelled by alcohol.
In his new book, Sweeper Keeper: The Story of Tommy Lawrence, Scotland and Liverpool's Legendary Flying Pig, football historian and writer Peter Kenny Jones casts a spotlight on the life of the viral sensation, Scotland international and humble hero who guarded Anfield's goal.
This extract contains quotes from family friend Eric Grundy, who shared the story of Tommy's reliance on several double gin and tonics to steady the nerves—before performing in front of thousands for the Reds.

Out every weekend

“I don’t know how he managed to keep going—playing football while smoking and drinking like he did. We’d be out every weekend, Saturday or Sunday, because he’d be busy at Liverpool in the week. But on a Saturday he’d be drinking his double gin and tonics and I’d pick him up from The Pack Horse at about maybe 12 o’clock, quarter past 12. He’d say he’d had a couple of drinks because he was a bag of nerves, an absolute bag of nerves—I don’t think he could play unless he was half-cut. I would say he’d have three or four double gin and tonics and a packet of fags, and then he would go and play in front of 50,000 people—he was a big lad then, he could take it!
"He’d have three or four double gin and tonics and a packet of fags, and then he would go and play in front of 50,000 people"
“He wouldn’t leave The Pack Horse without three or four gin and tonics. I was saying, ‘It’s half past one, quarter to two, we better make tracks!’ ‘OK, we’ll just finish this one!’ I never saw Roger [Hunt, Liverpool striker], I never saw him drinking. They never went together to the match when I knew them. I thought they would travel together but they never did. And I only really started taking him because I’d given up football myself. He loved me taking him to the club because I had a big blue Jag and he used to sit in the backseat and wave like b****y royalty!”

Local celebrity 

Tommy Lawrence in 1966
“Our wives were very friendly because the kids were all growing up together. We went on holiday a couple of years together to Fakenham in Norfolk, to the Butlin’s holiday camp. We went to the local pub called The Green Man and we had some good fun. It was a very tiny village and I think everybody came out to see Tommy Lawrence!
"Everyone wanted his autograph, and he had time for them all"
“Everyone wanted his autograph, and he had time for them all. The first night we drank the pub dry! They had to go to the next pub and borrow a barrel of beer and wait for the brewery to bring more the next day! This little pub would hold about maybe 15 or 20 at the most. Every night we went in, there must have been about 50–60 who had all come round to see Tommy Lawrence. It was fabulous.”

Lying to teammates

“He’d get me tickets to watch him play, like when I went to Celtic Park for the 1966 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final. I got to go up with the team, that was enjoyable. There was a lot of banter going on in the coach! Tommy said to me, ‘Don’t tell the b*****s that I smoke and drink!’ so I never mentioned it to any of them. Tommy was a great lad.
“When we were in the pub together, he was a very quiet man about his achievements—he didn’t throw it about. We used to go out playing darts and dominoes and he was a likeable lad. There wasn’t any airs and graces, none whatsoever. If you didn’t know him, you would never think he was such a celebrity because he never acted like it at all. It was only when somebody said, ‘Are you Tommy Lawrence?’ I’d say, ‘Oh my god,’ that was it—we wouldn’t be able to get away then!”

The perfect secret

Tommy Lawrence in goal for Liverpool vs Ajax in the European Cup 1966
It was clear that Eric and Tommy had a great friendship and one that heavily, in those days, revolved around drinking. It seems clear that the pressure of playing for a team that was challenging for league titles and in front of huge crowds was something that became too much for Shankly’s stopper. Seeing as the likes of George Scott, Phil Boersma and several other of Tommy’s teammates confirmed that one of their keeper’s best assets was the fact that he didn’t get nervous for the big occasions, it seems this tactic worked.
Conveying confidence as a goalkeeper is a huge part of your job, and whatever means Tommy used to achieve this certainly worked. It’s also fair to say that it didn’t really impact his performances either, although the drinking and smoking became a ritual that’s far from advisable for anyone playing the game now!

Shankly's reaction

Tommy asking Eric not to share any information about his extracurricular activities with his teammates shows that he knew they were wrong. The Scot clearly didn’t enjoy the fact that he grew somewhat dependant on alcohol to perform but this was not as taboo as it is in the modern era.
Even up to the 1990s in English football there was a strong drinking culture, and we are talking some 30 years earlier. It wasn’t the norm for all of Shankly’s squad to be drinking all day, certainly not in the lead-up to a match, and it would have been a punishable offence by those within Melwood. However, it probably wouldn’t have caused as much uproar as the thought of Alisson Becker sinking a few Brahmas in his local an hour before kick-off!
"Bill Shankly knew his players drank but didn’t like them going out clubbing or taking it too far"
Having said that, though, Shankly did once famously say in an interview: “If a man who’s playing in front of the public is being well paid and he doesn’t dedicate himself to the job—I would be hard on him. If I could, I’d put him in jail! Out on the road, out of society, because he’s a menace.”
Shankly knew his players drank but didn’t like them going out clubbing or taking it too far. A Christmas party was the only time the whole squad would be out together but pockets of the team would socialise together. So, it was probably in Tommy’s interest to keep this side of his life quiet.
sweeper keeper book
Sweeper Keeper: The Story of Liverpool and Scotland's Legendary Flying Pig (Pitch Publishing) by Peter Kenny Jones is out March 25
Banner photo: Liverpool FC in December 1966. Tommy Lawrence holding ball, second from right. Credit: Eric Koch for Anefo
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