Cool, calm metic­u­lous –and so un­der­rated

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

ASKED to ex­plain why he was bombed out of Mid­dles­brough by Len­nie Lawrence in 1993, Bernie Slaven gave a bru­tal re­sponse. “The source of fric­tion was a clash of per­son­al­i­ties,” said the striker. “Len­nie didn’t have one.”

Lawrence, it must be said, has al­ways been more Sven Go­ran Eriks­son than Joe Kin­n­ear, more Wenger than Fer­gu­son. His three decades and 1,000-plus games in man­age­ment built more on stu­dious anal­y­sis than tub-thump­ing rhetoric.

Yet if the 66-year-old isn’t ex­actly Jose Mour­inho, Slaven’s as­sess­ment is hardly re­flec­tive of a man who won three pro­mo­tions and is re­spected through­out the game.

“With Len­nie’s ex­pe­ri­ence, he knew how to get his point across,” ar­gues Matt Tay­lor, the for­mer West Ham and Bolton mid­fielder who was given his pro­fes­sional de­but by Lawrence as a 17-yearold at Lu­ton in 1999. “He never re­ally seemed to scream and shout but you al­ways knew ex­actly what he wanted.”

It is a point backed up by Rob Lee, who started his ca­reer un­der Lawrence at Charl­ton be­fore go­ing on to win Eng­land hon­ours.

“I al­ways en­joyed work­ing un­der Len­nie,” he said. “He was very metic­u­lous in what he did and al­ways or­gan­ised the team very well.

“He was a good mo­ti­va­tor but he didn’t need to shout. You had con­fi­dence in ev­ery­thing he told you.”

Th­ese days, Bolton’s as­sis­tant man­ager is a by­word for ex­pe­ri­ence, a pro­fes­sional sound­ing board who, since re­tir­ing from man­age­ment in 2005, has as­sisted the likes of Jamie Pit­man at Here­ford, Paul Trol­lope at Bris­tol Rovers and, since 2010, Dougie Freed­man at Crys­tal Palace and Bolton.

“He’s per­fect for that role,” said Glyn Sn­odin, Lawrence’s friend and cur­rently as­sis­tant man­ager at Preston. “He has so much ex­pe­ri­ence, so much knowl­edge about the game. And he’ll share that ad­vice with any­body. What a great bloke to have along­side you in the dugout.”

Charisma

It is a role close to Lawrence’s heart. After a play­ing ca­reer spent in Non-League (he played along­side school class-mate Roy Hodg­son at Car­shal­ton Ath­letic), the then 31-year-old was thrust into man­age­ment as a care­taker at Ply­mouth in 1978.

“I’d only ar­rived as re­serve coach the year be­fore and the job came too soon for me,” he ad­mit­ted. “I needed help.”

And it came in the form of exMan City boss Mal­colm Al­li­son, the cigar-chew­ing, fe­dora wear­ing me­dia dar­ling.

“He was such a big character and he had charisma,” said Lawrence. “The press would look at Mal­colm in­stead of the play­ers. I re­mem­ber one oc­ca­sion when Mal­colm came into the dress­ing room, took off his fe­dora, threw it across the room and it landed on a peg!

“That’s an ex­am­ple of the type of thing he used to do and it made me re­alise you couldn’t go about look­ing ner­vous. You had to look calm and in con­trol.”

It was a skill Lawrence would cer­tainly need. A decade at Charl­ton was spent bat­tling hor­ren­dous fi­nan­cial prob­lems, while a move to Mid­dles­brough in 1991 found them train­ing in a prison yard to make ends meet.

Yet he would guide both sides into the top-flight, lay­ing the foun- da­tions for Alan Cur­bish­ley’s golden era at Charl­ton and Steve Gib­son’s Galac­ti­cos at Boro.

“What he did was in­cred­i­ble,” said Steve Gritt, Charl­ton’s skip­per un­der Lawrence. “We were ground-shar­ing with Crys­tal Palace and the club’s fi­nances were also in a ter­ri­ble state. There were times when the play­ers didn’t get paid and a match against Black­burn even had to be called off. I prob­a­bly have more re­spect for him – as a per­son as well as a boss – than any­one else.”

Sub­se­quent spells at Brad­ford, Lu­ton and Grimsby were less suc­cess­ful, but Lawrence’s ca­reer was crowned by a move to Cardiff and vic­tory over QPR in the Third Di­vi­sion play-off fi­nal of 2003.

Though he would leave in 2005, he had yet again laid tough foun­da­tions. The Blue­birds have never again re­turned to the third tier and even spent 2013-14 in the Premier League.

It is, says Joe Royle, a di­vi­sion in which Lawrence should have spent far more of his ca­reer.

“Len­nie has had more than 1,000 games as a man­ager and his sides have al­ways played good foot­ball,” said the for­mer Ever­ton boss. “He has been suc­cess­ful with­out ever get­ting a bite at the big-time. I’ve al­ways found it a bit puzzling.”

Dave Bas­sett puts it more bluntly.

“Foot­ball is ob­sessed with ap­point­ing fash­ion­able 40-year-old man­agers who look good rather than peo­ple with sub­stance,” he said. “Len­nie doesn’t fit the bill but he’s a great man­ager.

“He’s cool, he’s ex­pe­ri­enced, he doesn’t over-re­act to sit­u­a­tions. He’s al­ways been very un­der­rated.”

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