This season we have been reflecting on 10 Years at Oteley Road - to celebrate this we will be bringing you an exclusive interview with a player from the last decade. Today it is Liam Lawrence!
When Shrewsbury Town unveiled the signing of Liam Lawrence on the 4th July 2014 it was seen as a real coup for the club and a sign of intent.
Lawrence had made over 250 appearances in English football’s top two divisions, playing for the likes of Stoke City, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Cardiff City.
Liam was known to new Town boss Micky Mellon from his time at Barnsley, but it was a chance meeting that led to his arrival.
“I think we were coming back from Dubai and Micky came on the plane”, Lawrence told Town Talk.
“I’d played with him at Barnsley so I said hello and we had a general chat and he just said that he was starting at Shrewsbury and asked whether I would be willing to come down and have a talk.
“I was out of contract at Barnsley, so we had a chat and then I ended up coming down and the rest is history.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because I still wanted to play in the Championship if I could, even though I was getting on in age, but Micky sold it to me and I had a look around the place.
“I liked the atmosphere and the feeling at the club, a nice little new stadium and he sold it to me and it was a good decision in the end.”
For many outsiders the move down to League Two looked a huge step backwards for a player that had made nearly 75 Premier League appearances, but Lawrence wanted another promotion on his CV.
“When I made the decision some people were saying I should be playing higher and at bigger clubs, but I didn’t see it like that”, said Liam.
“Once I’ve got a goal in my mind, and that was to play regularly and get the club promoted, once I got that in my head nothing else mattered.
“It didn’t matter to me that we were playing away somewhere freezing in front of just 2,000 people on a Tuesday night, I just wanted to get the club promoted and that was the end of it.”
The aim for Liam was always to get promoted with Town and he admits that even after the first couple of training sessions he felt it was on the cards.
“I always thought we would get promoted”, Lawrence said.
“We had some good players and I knew we had some good young players in Woodsy and Connor. You could see from a few early training sessions that we had good quality and I just got that feeling.
“I’ve had it at Stoke and Sunderland in the past and I just had that feeling that the club was going places and it turned out we were.
“I would never have signed for the club if I didn’t think it was going anywhere. I want success and promotions and that was one of the main reasons I signed.”
Mellon had enticed Lawrence to the club and the former Stoke and Sunderland midfielder admits that the manager’s influence and the atmosphere he created became pivotal in the success Town had.
“He was good”, Liam said of Micky.
“He’s very to the point, he’s very thorough in his training and in schedule and he didn’t take any messing, so I knew that every training session would be done in the right manner and I knew when it came to games that everything would be done properly.
“Although he allows you to have a laugh and we all got on and there was a good atmosphere, but when it was work time it was work time.”
“We had the camaraderie, we had a good coach and manager, we had a great bunch of lads that listened to me and gave 110% in every training session and all those things fell into place, along with the fact that we had real quality in the side, so we were always destined to get promoted.”
The promotion was finally completed at the penultimate game of the season away at Cheltenham Town as Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro’s goal proved the difference. Liam remembers how he felt that day.
“I was absolutely shattered after that game”, Lawrence continued.
“Going into the game I was fresh but after it, once we had got promoted, I was mentally and physically exhausted and I was just glad we were over the line.
“Once you are over the line and you know you’ve got promoted it was just like a massive weight off your shoulders because people talk about it throughout the season.”
Promotion had given the fans great optimism about what life in League One might entail, but Lawrence believes that the losses of Connor Goldson and Ryan Woods, who moved to Brighton and Brentford respectively, were huge for the club.
“It was a massive loss”, Liam admitted.
“Connor at the back wasn’t just a great defender but he set a lot of goals up and scored from set-pieces. He was a massive miss and Woodsy in the middle did a lot of my running for me and he was brilliant on the ball and he deserves to be playing where he’s playing.
“Woodsy can play in the Premier League that’s for sure. Connor’s not really had the break yet but he will do and I always told Connor that he will play in the Premier League one day and be a regular.”
It led to a season of struggle and Town finished just one place outside the relegation zone, but Liam doesn’t believe people realise the difference in quality between the two divisions.
“As much as people only say it is League One, there’s a massive step and it’s like a mini-Championship now”, Lawrence explained.
“Scunthorpe, for example, have played in the Championship and they are supposed to be a small club in League One.
“Then you’ve got the likes of Portsmouth that have won the FA Cup and get 18,000 supporters on a decent day, it’s a tough ask.
“So, when you lose players and the club isn’t one that gets 10-15 thousand fans in every week and the budget isn’t as big as other clubs, it’s difficult.”
Midway through that season Lawrence left the club to join then League Two side Bristol Rovers. It brought the curtain down on an exciting 18-month spell at Shrewsbury and he admits that he reflects on his time at the club positively.
“I obviously wanted to play more but in some games I felt like I was treading water at times”, Liam said.
“I was 34 then I was starting to get little knocks and injuries and I never really recovered, so it was totally right to move on.
“When anyone asks if I enjoyed it down there I’ve always spoke highly of the club and the supporters were fantastic with me, so I definitely look back with fond memories that’s for sure.”