Chris Lawler vintage 2014 (photo by Arnie Baldursson)
Chris Lawler’s career at Liverpool Football Club coincided with Bill Shankly’s 15-year tenure at the club, in fact, Lawler arrived three months earlier and left 16 months after Shankly’s shock resignation. Lawler wasn’t an average footballer at Liverpool FC, but quite simply the greatest goalscoring defender in the club’s history. The right-back boasts an astonishing record of 61 goals in 549 games, especially considering he was not the club's penalty kick-taker or a free-kick specialist. He ghosted into the opponents’ penalty area, having the “brain of a striker” as termed by Paisley, and dispatched the ball past the keeper.
Did you ever play as a striker as a boy?
No, but I did score goals. I used to like to dribble with the ball.
You scored loads of goals?
Yeah, when I moved to right-back. The only time I ever went forward was for corner kicks if we were losing... if we needed a goal. I was good in the air for corner kicks, especially when we played European teams, they weren’t as good then.
Lawler is not one to blow his own trumpet and appears nonchalant about the knack he had for scoring goals.
How did you, the local boy, come to Liverpool’s attention?
I was playing for a local Catholic school. I was playing for Liverpool Schoolboys. I was captain of England Schoolboys. We played at Wembley against West Germany. I was fourteen and a half and there were 95,000 people there at Wembley and it was a good game. We beat West Germany 2-0. Martin Peters, who played in the World Cup team, was in my team as well.
I could have gone to Man. United. Could have gone to Everton... I was one of fifteen children. There was eleven boys and the whole family were Reds. I was the third youngest. So they wouldn’t let me go to Everton. So my dad did say to me ‘Go up there (to Everton). 'You’re not going to sign for them but they might give you a pair of boots to try and bribe you!’ And he was right. I got a brand new pair of Adidas football boots.
In the end I went to Liverpool. On the groundstaff. It was like a job at the ground. When I first went I thought we would just train during the day, but I never did that. We were working all day, a bit like slave labour. Worked all day and then two nights a week I went training with the amateurs. And then Bill Shankly came. I was there three months before Bill Shankly came to the club and I bumped into him in the corridor. I was taking a tea break in the morning and he stopped me as I was going past his office and he asked where I was going. He knew who I was as well. He said ‘You’re Chris Lawler’ because he was thorough like that. And he stopped me and he asked me my routine and I said ‘I’m in at half past eight every morning and two nights a week we go training with the amateurs.’ And he said: ‘That’s no good. You’re here to learn a trade. Football’s your trade. Tomorrow morning you’re going training at ten o’clock with the first team.’
Shankly later commented that while Chris Lawler was on the groundstaff that “he hardly knew what it was like to get a kick at a ball.”
So after that I did my work in the afternoon and went training in the morning. And it made a big difference. When you’re with the professionals they’re giving you hints and it made a big difference to me that.
A youthful Chris Lawler
So was there an immediate difference in the way Shankly ran things compared to his predecessor Phil Taylor?
Yes. As soon as he came. I hardly ever saw Phil Taylor after he signed me because he wasn’t like Shankly where he was involved with the players on the pitch. He was a nice man, but not the same as Bill Shankly. He was a gentleman though.
Lawler was only sixteen when he joined Liverpool and had to endure a long learning curve and was on the verge of leaving the club. He made seven appearances in the 1962/63 season when Liverpool were playing in the first division for the first time in eight years. He only featured in six games when Liverpool won the league the following season. The main problem for Chris was that his way into the first team was blocked by a giant Scotsman.
I was a centre-back then in the second team. And I only played if Ron Yeats, the club captain, was injured. I thought there was no future for me at Liverpool. So I went to see Bill Shankly and said I wanted a transfer. Well, he was shocked. He didn’t expect that.
A 19-year-old by the name of Tommy Smith was getting restless, as well.
Tommy had seen I had gone in and then he went in. It was in the papers that Matt Busby would take the two of us.
You wanted to go?
Not really, no... We wanted to stay at Liverpool, but there was an offer there to go to Man United.
The club said effectively no?
It was United’s loss and Liverpool’s gain that Shankly realised he had to blood his youngsters. He calmed Lawler’s nerves inside his office and convinced him to stay.
Shankly said: ‘I’ve got an idea. Leave it with me.’ So in the next few weeks Ronnie Moran was coming to the end of his career and Gerry Byrne was playing right-back. So he moved Gerry Byrne over to left-back and tried me at right-back. I just played nearly every game after that. I didn’t miss many games. Only about four in five years, something like that.
The statistics back up Lawler’s claim and he made an impressive 316 consecutive appearances for Liverpool from 2 October 1965 to 24 April 1971.
Lawler and Smith, for that matter, established themselves in the side in the 1964/65 campaign when Liverpool started their European adventure in Iceland, a campaign that finished in controversial circumstances in Italy.
Chris’ wedding to Geraldine Brown on 3 May 1965 at St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in West Derby was a big event in the city. All of Chris’ teammates were in Blackpool as the team was preparing for the first leg of the European Cup semi-finals against Inter Milan. Ian St John and Ron Yeats were though in attendance and around 700 Liverpool supporters cheered Chris and Geraldine outside the church while 20 police officers kept everything in check. Poor Chris couldn’t exactly enjoy this memorable day as he had to be whisked off during the wedding reception to join his teammates in Blackpool while his bride stayed at her mother’s.
They have been married now for nearly 40 years. ‘We had wanted to get married in March, but Bill Shankly was having none of it!’ Geraldine told the Liverpool Daily Post in 2005. ‘We had three lovely days in the end. On May 1 Chris played Leeds and Liverpool won the FA Cup, the next day there was the big homecoming and the day after we were married. It wasn't such a big deal to marry a footballer. My parents were just happy that I had found a nice, honest chap.’
Click to enlarge (From Adrian Killen's scrapbook)
Chris won the FA Cup in 1965, the League Championship in 1966, reached the Cup winners’ Cup final the same year and another FA Cup final in 1971.
Life at Liverpool was anything but quiet especially as Chris and Tommy Smith were roommates.
Yeah, he was always getting into fights, Tommy, when we went out. He had what we call “a short fuse". We were staying in the Midlands one time in a hotel. He wasn’t very patient with people asking for autographs. A man in his 30s asked for his autograph. He was saying to him: ‘You should be chasing women, having a pint and not asking me for an autograph.’
You had a good understanding with Tommy Smith who was centre-half on your side and Callaghan on the wing.
When we started off there were no substitutes. So we played every week together, so we knew each other’s play. If I went forward Ian Callaghan would drop back or Tommy Smith. We all knew each other. Not like today when it’s a different team every week.
We had a system. I always remember we played Burnley first game of one season (1970/71). And Burnley had got promotion the year before. But it wasn’t like today where you know all the teams because they’re on television. So Burnley came to Anfield and we didn’t know many of their players. So they had this winger on the left wing, Steve Kindon, and he was fast. We had our backs to the Kop and they kicked off. They kicked the ball behind me and Tommy and this Steve Kindon sprinted past the two of us. Fortunately for us the ball went out behind the Kop end goal and he nearly ran into the Kop. I always remember Smithy saying to me, well he swore: ‘What the fucking hell was that?’ he says. ‘We’ll have to do what we usually do.’ So I was standing on the line and that made him come inside and Tommy would be waiting for him. Tommy was a strong tackler. So I blocked the line and he came inside and Tommy … well, we never saw him (Kindon) again in the game after that! They were all fair tackles, but...
Yeah, right... We probably have no evidence of the fairness of those tackles.
[Smiles] Even tackling from behind was allowed.
With whom did you most enjoy playing?
All of them, because we all had a good spirit. Lot of players had faults. Tommy Smith didn’t get on with Emlyn Hughes. We all liked each other even for the faults we had. We were a good team.
“Chris used to room with Tommy Smith but you would never have thought it the way Tom would give him a rollicking during a match.”- Bob Paisley
Lawler scores against Leeds on 4 May 1968
As previously mentioned Lawler got more than his fair share of goals and was especially prolific in the European competitions.
Shankly didn’t mind you joining the attack...
When we won...[smiles]. We played in Switzerland (in 1971 against Servette) and lost 2-1. I scored... [but earlier in the game] while I was up the ball went back and came down I should have been and they scored. I came off after the match and I got a bollocking. ‘You shouldn’t be up there!’
Lawler was on target in the two defeats to Red Star Belgrade in 1973. Liverpool lost both legs 2-1.
I always remember their goals; wonder goals. Shots from 35 yards going in at the angle. Ray Clemence was in goal then. He was a good keeper, but he couldn’t even save them. There were good goals that beat us.
Lawler fails to mention that his Red Star equaliser at Anfield was very impressive. He chested the ball after a knock down by Toshack in the middle of the penalty area and volleyed the ball into the roof of the net without the ball ever touching the ground.
Lawler's goal against Red Star Belgrade is at 6:04.
The attacking right-back netted 41 goals in the first division and more often than not his goals were quite stunning.
From a press report on Liverpool – Newcastle 1-1 on 6 April 1971.
“It was that master of the unsuspected, right back Chris Lawler, who saved the night with another example of the controlled venom he carries in his right foot. With the half-time whistle only seconds away, Newcastle turned the ball out from Liverpool‘s umpteenth attack – right into the path of Lawler on the 18-yard line. His vicious half-volley swerved and dipped over goalkeeper Iam McFaul as it had been hit by Pele himself.”
What is your most memorable goal?
When we beat Everton. We were losing 2-0 and Steve Heighway scored and John Toshack. It was getting late on in the game. I only went up when needed. I ended up in the penalty area. Toshack flicked it on and I just controlled it and volleyed it in the back of the net. Everyone went mad. Five minutes to go.
Lawler scores the winner versus the Blues at 2:40
Karl “Wooltonian” Brodrick remembered this momentous occasion in Merseyside derby history that took place on 21 November 1970, in his “Derby Day Trilogy”.
“The roar from the Kop reached new heights as the Liverpool players headed for the box. Everyone picked up their opposite number, everyone had just become a Siamese twin. And then I noticed a ghostly figure, heading toward the back post. Was he an apparition? The Silent Knight had stepped up for his moment of glory. As he pulled the trigger there was a half moment of pure silence. BANG, Chris had caught hold of it, sweet as a nut. As the ball flew across the area, everyone in the ground drew a deep breath. It was the Red fans who released the trapped breath first. G-O-A-L! it had gone in off the far post. I swear the sighs from my left were just as deafening. Lawler had clinched it. As the heads of Kopites fell back, they let out the biggest roar of the game. The heads in the Anny were firmly fixed to chests. Thus ended one of the greatest Derby games both me and my father ever watched.”
Shankly transformed the successful side of 1964-66 in 1970 as Liverpool had gone empty-handed for four and a half years and would remain so in the following season, just missing out on the title. Liverpool lost to Watford on 21 February 1970 in the quarter-final of the FA Cup which proved to be the last straw. Shankly had to change the old guard.
"He dropped Lawrence, St John, Ron Yeats...," Lawler remembers. "There were some good youngsters coming up then; Larry Lloyd, Ray Clemence, Emlyn Hughes and Keegan, of course, Toshack, Heighway."
Lawler kept his place and was a key player in the side that finished fifth in the league in the 1970/71 season 14 points behind Arsenal, who went to win the double when they beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
Shankly praised his reliable right-back at the end of that campaign.
“Lawler has proved himself the greatest-ever match-winning full-back in the business with nearly 50 goals. A fantastic achievement when you realise he hasn‘t scored any of them from the penalty-spot, or even direct from a free-kick. I can‘t believe there is a player who would complain if Lawler was voted Footballer of the Year. His consistency has earned him respect in every dressing room in the First Division.”
Probably the most famous story about Lawler concerns him and Shankly, as related by Bob Paisley in his book: “My 50 Golden Reds.”
“It doesn’t really matter how many times you tell the story – it’s worth repeating again. It‘s the one about the quiet man of Anfield, Chris Lawler, and his former boss Bill Shankly. Bill used to take training sessions very seriously when it got round to the 7–a-side matches and this day we were playing without proper goals. Bill hit a shot and claimed a goal which everyone else knew would have gone over the bar. Anyway, to try and get some support for his view that he had scored he turned to Chris and asked him whether it was a goal or not. Chris said that it wasn’t and would have gone over the bar and Bill had everyone in stitches when he turned round and told anyone who would listen: ‘He doesn’t say a word for years and then when he does he tells a lie.’”
Chris was evidently not always unassuming (photo from the Echo on 22 February 1978)
Chris carefully studying this colorful photo: “It was a safari photoshoot for a friend.”
Approaching his thirtieth birthday Lawler still retained the fitness and stamina to play in every single one of the 66 competitive games the club played in four different competitions during the 1972/73 season, his reward being further winners’ medals in the league and the UEFA Cup. Unfortunately Lawler injured his knee against QPR in November 1973 and was never the same player after that.
Your cartilage injury at QPR practically ended your Liverpool career
There was more to that actually. I’ve never really told anybody. Only a few people know. I got injured at QPR. Bob Paisley was the trainer then. We came off and he put an ice pack on my knee to keep the swelling down. He put a bandage around it, but it was a chemical one, a packet... you shake it and there’s crystals inside it. He put it on my knee. He bandaged me up. On the train back to Liverpool I had to take the bandage off, it was like a burning sensation. So that was Saturday night. Sunday morning a specialist came to Anfield to have a look at my knee. I got on the medical table and he checked me and said: ‘Yeah, the cartilage has gone.’ Then he looked at the back of my knee. The ice pack had taken all the skin off. I had like third degree burns. I went straight into a private hospital. When I went to the hospital nobody bothered with me anymore. That’s how it was at Liverpool. You’ve had your cartilage out, left in a hospital and nobody comes to see you. Bill Shankly didn’t like anybody injured. I was in hospital for 4-5 days. I discharged myself and went home. I was just lying in the bed there waiting for this to heal. Eventually it healed and I had the cartilage operation. I never really got fit again. My kneecap kept collapsing on me. I should had my cartilage out straight away, but I had to wait five weeks. I don’t blame Bob Paisley. He wouldn’t do anything like that deliberately. It was a mistake.
Lawler only featured in 17 matches in a season and a half following Bob Paisley’s appointment as manager as his Anfield career came to an end. On a personal level Chris and Geraldine suffered a horrible tragedy in 1975 when their oldest child Christell Rose died. They have three other children; Jane, Christopher and Leon.
I contacted Leon and he sent me the following about his dad:
"Been thinking about this all day about how to describe my dad and what type of person he is and I keep coming to the same conclusion. I've got to say, without being biased, that he is the most warm, funniest down to earth man I have ever had the pleasure to know in my whole life. I couldn't have asked for a better father. I don't really think that the title of being classed as a quiet man does him justice to be fair. You have to know him personally to get to know the real person. I guess its because he's a proper gentleman and always speaks when spoken to first.
Cutting Leon's birthday cake
Being very humble, he never really talks or either brags about his footballing feats. On occasions we'll be sitting watching Liverpool and he'll mention this time he got the ball on the edge of the box and volleyed it past the opposing goalkeeper etc. and then the next line of the conversation will be 'So whats for tea?' or 'Just won £3 on a scratchcard...yesss' It is examples like that when I look back and think, hang on a minute, wow...my dad played for Liverpool Football Club but then again...he's just my dad :) The best ever quote about my dad was when some gentleman came up to me and pointed at my dad and said "It was the best money i ever spent in my entire life watching him"...I really was made up with that and couldn't thank the man enough."
In October 1975 Lawler moved to Portsmouth who were managed at the time by his former teammate, Ian St John. In the summer of 1976 Lawler played on loan at Miami Toros which was a unique experience.
I played against Pele and Eusebio. It was all new then the league [The NASL]. I lived on an island; Key Biscayne, one of the little islands off Miami Beach. It was lovely. I rented a house off a lady from New York. I had my family with me.
A testimonial was held for Chris at Anfield on 11 October 1978 with Swansea as the opposition.
In 1980 Lawler wound down his playing career in a much colder climate in Norway.
I was player-manager with Raufoss, who were in the second division. I was one season there and then I went to Bodø. I was just the manager two years there. I won the third division my first year at Bodø. In-between when I was at Bodø I’d come home for the winter and was assistant manager at Wigan for six months and then went back to Bodø. I didn’t stay at Wigan because the money wasn’t good.
The Boot Room boys in 1984: Chris with Moran, Bennison and Evans.
(Photo by Skapti Hallgrímsson)
“The Silent Knight” returned to Liverpool FC in 1982 when he was appointed the coach of the reserve team. Bob Paisley was in his last season as manager and Joe Fagan took over. Lawler both experienced pleasure and pain watching Liverpool from the bench in the European Cup finals of 1984, where the Reds won their fourth European Cup and 1985 when the Heysel disaster was the last chapter in Fagan’s two years in charge and Lawler’s time at Liverpool, as well.
Kenny Dalglish became manager and he wanted his own people in. He didn’t actually tell me... I found out from the cleaners that somebody (Phil Thompson) was taking my place. That was the only disappointing thing about it all. It wasn’t nice leaving Liverpool, but it could have been done better. I’ve seen Kenny [since then] and there is nothing now. No point in living in the past.
Interview by Arnie Baldursson ([email protected]
) Copyright - LFChistory.net. Thanks to Chris Wood for the transcription.