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Football News: Partnerships 2: Hansen and Lawrenson

Partnerships 2: Hansen and Lawrenson

Partnerships 2: Alan Hansen & Mark Lawrenson


When you look back at the Hansen-Lawrenson partnership it is easy to assume that they played together for most of the six and a half years that the pair played in the same Liverpool team. They are just such a perfect duo together in defence that I think most of us forget that most of his Liverpool career saw Lawrenson playing in a number of other roles for large portions of his time on Merseyside.

It could all have been so different for a number of reasons. Firstly Hansen very nearly quit football altogether at the age of 15, when he gave up the sport in order to concentrate on golf with the intention of becoming a professional in that instead. His brother John (who was a professional footballer himself) and dad convinced him to go back to football but he still rejected a first professional contract offered to him by Hibernian as it would have put a stop to his golf dreams.

Lawrenson nearly never ended up at Liverpool, after missing his first choice to join when Brighton & Hove Albion outbid them to get him from Preston North End for £112,000 and Graham Cross going the other way in part-exchange. Though that move nearly fell through as he had been away in Spain on a 'jolly' with some teammates only for BHA chairman Mike Bamber and director Dudley Sizen to turn up and tell him he was sold in a Benidorm beachside bar. He then failed his medical due to high blood sugar levels but it was traced back to drinking too many blackcurrant-flavoured Guinesses on the holiday. He was 20 at the time and PNE's player of the year under then manager Bobby Charlton. He would later play under Bobby's brother with the Republic of Ireland.

It was also never certain he would even make it in football, certainly it was not the vocation his mother had in mind for him as she wanted him to become a priest. But he joined Preston as a youngster but even then, at least according to former teammate at PNE, BHA, Liverpool and Republic of Ireland, Michael Robinson:

"Yeah, we were also at Preston, Brighton, and Liverpool at the same time and we both represented the Republic of Ireland during the same time too. When we were both playing in the youth leagues in Blackpool, Mark played for our main rivals called Bispham Juniors. You would think that any player of Mark's stature would have excelled in these youth leagues and stood out by a mile. However, that wasn't the case for Mark, as he struggled to even get a game for Bispham, simply because he was not good enough. His break into football also came about in a slightly bizarre way too. His stepfather was one of the directors at Preston at the time I was playing for them. Mark would come and help out in the training sessions, get out the cones, collect the bibs and then would get to join in at the match at the end. To be honest he wasn't that good. I remember we travelled away to Aston Villa for a reserve team game. Nobby Stiles was the player-manager at the time and he got injured just before the game. On the bus the only other player available was Mark, so he was put on the bench. And what happened? Ten minutes into the game our full-back comes off injured and is replaced by young Mark Lawrenson. The manager tucked him in to start with in order to protect him, but he ends up having an absolute blinder of a game! He then played a few more games for the reserves and was rewarded with a contract at Preston and later was sold to Brighton and eventually Liverpool where he won the European Cup."

According to Lawrenson it was the late, great, Nobby Stiles who turned him into a top player: "I was a winger when I joined Preston, while he was coach, and he was the one who converted me to my present position - in the middle of the back four. Nobby was very good with the youngsters. He was almost like a father figure. He commanded respect not only because of what he'd achieved himself but because of the way he'd help iron out your faults."

Meanwhile Hansen had become ensconced as a first team regular with Partick Thistle, even taking on the mantle of the club's regular penalty taker. On 5th May 1977 Bob Paisley, following a recommendation from Jock Stein, swooped in to sign Hansen for £110,000, where he changed from being known as 'Stretch' to being 'Jocky'. It took him until the 1978/79 season before he solidified a first team place in a team which conceded just 4 goals at home all season and won the league.

It was a few years later when Lawrenson finally made the move to the Reds to join Hansen in the summer of 1981 for a fee of around £900,000, a club record transfer fee. Again though it was a deal that almost never took place. Brighton had hit financial difficulties and so had to sell their star man, despite manager Alan Mullery wishing to keep him. There was interest in him from Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool: "I didn't want to sell Mark but was told the club needed the money to pay an overdraft. I'd had four or five first division clubs on the phone most Fridays wanting to know if he was available and when I was told about our money situation I phoned Ron Atkinson and sold him to Manchester United. The only trouble was Mike [Bamber, Brighton's chairman] sold him to Liverpool which is where he eventually went."

Lawrenson's tale of the move is more colourful: "I don't know if there was a financial crisis and they were looking for a big transfer fee from my sale to sort themselves out, but the uncertainty did unsettle me. On our return flight, there was a message that Terry Neill of Arsenal was waiting to meet the chairman at Gatwick. Somehow they missed each other and the next day there was talk of me going to Manchester United.....Arsenal offered me less money than I was on at Brighton but said they had the bust of Herbert Chapman and underfloor heating in the dressing room. Big Ron at United was trying to sign Frank Stapleton first. I was really close to going there...But while I waited I met Bob Paisley and Peter Robinson at Liverpool and it was done in ten minutes....I was nervous as a kitten. I had on my best suit, shirt and tie, my best bib and tucker. I went down to reception and the doorman spotted me and said 'Mr Paisley is waiting for you in his car outside'. When I got in the car I saw that Bob was wearing slippers and a cardigan. I couldn't believe it. That was my first meeting with Bob Paisley and I knew I'd come to the right place. They'd just won the European Cup and there was this fellow, who everyone in football thought was an absolute god, driving me to the ground in his slippers and cardigan! I thought, 'You'll do for me!'."

"We nearly bought him from Preston in 1977, but it was playing at the heart of the Brighton defence against Kenny Dalglish in March 1980 that he really caught my eye. Kenny is notoriously difficult to tackle. He is so clever and deceptive and uses his body to shield the ball from opposing defenders. And yet here was a 22-year-old, fresh out of the Second Division, winning the ball from him with sharp, clean challenges." - Bob Paisley.

Lawrenson continued: "I travelled north and had a medical at 11:30 at night. I even took the registration forms to the league offices myself, because they were only a few doors down from my mother's home at St Annes. It was midnight on a summer's night in 1981. There was no game, but it was the night I signed for Liverpool and I went out on the pitch just to soak up the surroundings. It was incredible, every player's dream come true. That was what changed my career, a turning point in my life and I will never forget it. Then, on my first day of training, there was a fight, between Alan Kennedy and Graeme Souness. I thought: 'What kind of club is this?'"

You would think that the Hansen-Lawrenson partnership would have been immediately put in place after such a large fee, for the time, but Hansen was playing so well alongside Phil Thompson that Lawrenson initially played at left-back in place of Alan Kennedy. When he finally did play at centre-back, it was to replace Hansen when the Scot had got injured. When Hansen returned to fitness, Lawrenson even played in midfield. In fact it was not until 28th December 1982 that they were paired up in defence.

With Thompson out injured for the second half of the season, Paisley finally put Hansen alongside Lawrenson in central defence. It was Paisley's final season in charge and that summer of 1983 he handed over to Joe Fagan, who decided to stick with Hansen next to Lawrenson as his first choice central defence. Though he also prepared for the future by signing Gary Gillespie as a long-term central defensive replacement.

Liverpool became synonymous with Hansen-Lawrenson at the back, as they cleaned up winning almost every trophy available, but it was over, pretty much completely, in the run-in at the tail end of the 1985-86 season. Lawrenson had picked up an injury and Gillespie stepped in so effectively that, on his return to fitness Lawrenson could not get into the side until the FA Cup final. That morning Gillespie woke up with a stomach bug and Lawrenson took his place for the final, though the pair struggled initially to get their partnership together. The following season Gillespie was back in situ and Lawrenson was used as full-back cover, playing both left and right-back during the season until in March 1987 he ruptured his Achilles tendon, ruling him out for 6 months.

Lawrenson did not get back into the team again until September, when an injury to Craig Johnston saw Kenny Dalglish move Steve Nicol to right midfield and Lawrenson slotted in at right-back. But it was only a short-term fix as Ray Houghton arrived the following month and Lawrenson was then in and out at left-back. But Lawrenson was struggling: "None of the other Liverpool players in the Liverpool side had any idea how badly I was struggling. They were playing so well and winning that their performances masked my weaknesses. When I got back into the team, I found I couldn't turn and run like I used to be able to do. I was just getting by on my positional play and my experience. I found I was a yard slower than everyone else and I couldn't get away with it against top class teams."

Worse was to come for Lawrenson as he played his third game in a week in January 1988 and thought he had been taken out: "I was certain that I'd been brought down, even though I couldn't see anybody near enough to have done it. I remember standing up to test my right foot and felt as though I was standing on a ramp. On reflection, I should have known I hadn't been fouled. There wasn't even a murmur from the crowd." In the 51st minute on the 16th January 1988 Lawrenson booted the ball into the stands to allow him to be substituted off with a recurrence of the Achilles injury. He would never play for Liverpool again and within weeks had hung up his boots and taken charge of Oxford United.

For all that we look back and remember them as the pairing at the heart of Liverpool's defensive solidity as they hoovered up trophies in the 1980s, they only actually played together between the end of December 1982 and the tail end of the 1985-86 season. Just about 2 and a half seasons was all they had in reality. I think it is telling that we remember them as the rock at the back together because they were that good it feels like it should have been the duo that brought so much success.

To read the previous entry in the Partnerships series on Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister click here.

Written by Tris Burke November 03 2023 02:52:06


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