Interview: Matt Lawrence

Image: Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty

Matt Lawrence was part of the Micky Adams promotion team that began our adventure en route to the Premier League. The right-back made 72 appearances for the Whites and went onto have a solid career with the likes of Crystal Palace and Millwall before hanging up his boots in 2012 to begin a successful career in media. Daniel Smith spoke to Matt about his career in general, looking back at some fond memories from his Fulham days in the process…

DS – How did you get your first opportunity in football?

ML – I played football from the moment I could walk, as it was a way of quietening me down and keeping me occupied, I think. From the age of 18 months, I was out in the garage and garden in all weathers kicking a ball about with my mum.

DS – Who contacted you about Fulham’s interest and what appealed to you about the move?

ML – I knew that Fulham had been watching me for a while and I think I played well in a couple of games for Wycombe reserves. That encouraged Corky (who watched me) to shell out the bag of balls and a couple of tracksuits that Fulham paid for me.

DS – You mention Corky, what was your relationship with Micky Adams and Alan Cork like? How did the pair complement each other compared to other management teams you’ve experienced?

ML – I thoroughly enjoyed their company and both lived close to me in Sussex for a few years when we all lived down that way. Corky and I bumped into each other in Tesco’s a few times.

Most management teams are good cop, bad cop, but those two seemed to be good cop, crazy cop. They bounced off each other and knew how to build a squad with a very limited budget. They built a squad of young, hungry players and threw in a few wise, old (miserable) heads in the case of Morgs, Micky Conroy and Terry Angus. That squad had a real togetherness that got ripped apart when the money came in.

DS – Was there a moment during the 96/97 season that you realised the team could achieve promotion?

ML – I think I knew from the moment I joined that side would get promoted. It had everything you needed for lower league glory: experience, togetherness, nastiness and an out-and-out goalscorer in Conroy. Chuck in a dash of talent and Bob’s yer uncle.

DS – Do you have a standout match that you played in for Fulham?

ML – I never remember individual games and from joining to the promotion that season was somewhat of a blur: an enjoyable blur, nonetheless. I do remember Terry and me getting dragged off after about 25 minutes in one game: that was pretty embarrassing. I think I still got my full appearance money, though, ha ha.

DS – Who were your closest friends in the team and do you keep in touch with anyone from your Fulham days?

ML – I was always pretty tight with most of the team: I still see Morgs, Nick Cusack and a few of the other boys occasionally. Darren Freeman was my manager down at Whitehawk FC for a couple of seasons and that was enjoyable.

DS – Was it an easy decision to leave Fulham and did the sacking of Micky Adams or the transition Fulham were encountering under Al Fayed influence your decision to go?

ML – No, it wasn’t easy to leave Fulham. Kevin Keegan wanted rid of all us old boys and after playing over 50 games in the previous season, he offered me some derisory contract that basically implied “get your bags,” so I did. Didn’t look back and had no regrets. They spent £1m on Steve McAnespie in trying to replace me while I was there and then brought in Steve Finnan (who was top quality) when I left. No hard feelings.

DS – One of our bloggers, Sam Dymond remembers hearing that you were studying American Literature in University. What was your favourite text?

ML – I did my thesis on Charles Bukowski and enjoy most novels from the Beat Generation.

Kerouac’s ‘On the Road,’ is one of my favourites as is ‘Wonderland Avenue,’ by Danny Sugerman.

DS – You’ve played for several clubs. Is there one that you have more affiliation with?

ML – I think that Millwall will always be “my” team, but I have some amazing memories from my time at Palace, Wycombe and Fulham, too. Without quite hitting the heady heights, I enjoyed every second of my career and miss it daily.

DS – Your nickname is “Shaggy” from Scooby Doo because of your hair?

ML – It was just a bit of fun by the Millwall fans. They still shout it at me when I go to their games.

DS – You captained Millwall at the 2004 FA Cup final against Manchester United. Do you feel shortchanged that it was during the construction of the new Wembley, and played at the Millenium Stadium instead?

ML – I felt short-changed that I didn’t play at the old Wembley, but I’m not sure I missed out on not playing at the new Wembley: the Millennium Stadium was one heck of an experience and I saw Oasis at the new Wembley, so there was probably a better atmosphere for that!!

DS – If you had to pick one person to acknowledge for your development throughout your career, who would it be and why?

ML – Mum and Dad aside, definitely my PE teacher at Alfred Street Junior School, Alan Cox: I think I progressed the most between the ages of 7-11 and that was certainly down to him.

DS – As your career progressed, you adapted from a dynamic full back into a solid centre half. Was the transition easy?

ML – Yes, the transition was pretty easy. I always read the game well and one of my better traits was my football brain. I loved flying up and down the flank as a full back, so when the years caught up with me it was a simple move from right back to right centre half.

DS – You had decent spells with 5 league clubs; Wycombe Wanderers, Fulham, Millwall, Crystal Palace and Gillingham. Could you name a combined eleven of the best players that you played with throughout your career?

ML – Manager: Neil Warnock (Palace)

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Maik Taylor (Fulham); Lucas Neill (Millwall), Darren Ward (Millwall/Palace), Chris Coleman (Fulham), Rufus Brevett (Fulham); Ben Watson (Palace), Tim Cahill (Millwall), Ray Wilkins (Wycombe), Dennis Wise (Millwall); Richard Sadlier (Millwall), Neil Harris (Millwall).

Subs: Tony Warner (Millwall), Michael Hughes (Palace), Paul Ifill (Millwall), Steven Reid (Millwall), Barry Hayles (Fulham), Paul Peschisolido (Fulham), Clinton Morrison (Palace).

DS – If pushed to pick the very best player that you’ve played alongside from the team above, who would it be and why?

ML – Chris Coleman. Best player and the nicest guy.

DS – Since retiring you’ve worked in the media side of things. Was this something you always wanted to pursue, and do you have any interest in getting back into the football side as a coach/manager in the future?

ML – Coaching and management was never my thing, but I’m a lover of words, so the media world was just a hop, skip and a jump away. I like writing about footy, analysing the game and commentating on it.

DS – What are you up to now?

ML – I live in Manhattan now and work for Sporting KC of MLS. I work their TV broadcast and do radio commentary for NYCFC out of Yankee Stadium. I also fill in on radio shows for Sirius and Sirius XMFC which is based near The Rockefeller Center. A good friend of mine also runs a soccer newspaper, website and app called First Touch in NYC, so I write a fortnightly column for him, too.

DS – And finally Matt, pie or pasty, which filling?

ML – I’m a bit partial to The Cornish Pasty shop when I head back home, and it is normally chicken and vegetable.