By Jason McKeown
172 appearances in claret and amber, part of the promotion-winning side of 1999, part of the great escape side of 2000, and proud modeller of numerous hair colours – Jamie Lawrence is undoubtedly one of the great modern day heroes of Bradford City. A legend to a generation of us.
Width of a Post, with the help of reader Wayne Lovatt, was delighted to get the opportunity to interview Jamie on the phone about his memorable City career. Here is the result.
WOAP: How did you originally come to join Bradford City from Leicester in 1997? Was it an easy or difficult decision?
Yeah obviously I was at Leicester, working under Martin O’Neill, who I will always hugely respect. At the end of the 1996/97 season, he said to me, ‘look I can’t guarantee you first team football next season’. And he told me I could look for another club if I wanted, and let me go for £50k because of the service I had given to Leicester City.
So I had a think, and told him that I did want to leave. I then spoke to Chris Kamara, and I actually signed for Bradford while I was away in Jamaica, via fax.
WOAP: I remember that by November of the 1997/98 season you were flying. Was this down to the influence of Chris Kamara? What was he like to play under?
Chris was good for us. Obviously the team wasn’t as good at the time as the one that would go on to promotion and there was a lot of work to do. I will always be grateful to Chris Kamara for bringing me to Bradford and giving me a chance to play week in week out, which was very important.
WOAP: How easy did you find it to settle in West Yorkshire? I suppose it was similar to Doncaster…
I’ve played in the North for almost all of my life. I started at Sunderland, then Doncaster and Leicester, before I ended up at Bradford. I always like the fact that Northern people are dead straight people, and Bradford was the same. The fans took me to their hearts, and I fully embraced the move and worked my socks off.
WOAP: Kamara lost his job in January 1998 after a poor run of form, and in came Paul Jewell. I know from reading your autobiography that you have a huge amount of respect for Jagger…
Yeah, he was an excellent manager. Before he took over I was good mates with him and Eddie Youds, and we used to go out for a few pints together. When he took over, his management skills were superb. We had a strong bond, and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him.
WOAP: The next season ended in that glorious promotion to the Premier League, but it started off really badly with Jewell under pressure. What was the secret behind how the team and management turned that situation round?
Well we had good players anyway. I remember we signed a lot of new players, for example Macca (Stuart McCall) came back. But obviously it started badly and there was pressure on Paul. I think it was Bolton we played, live on Sky, and there was talk that if we lost that he might have lost his job. In the end we drew 2-2, and then shortly after we went on this long unbeaten run.
It just proved that we had a good team, and had needed time to gel. We had some really resilient characters in the dressing room, and a lot of them felt like they had a point to prove because of experiences at other clubs before, where they’d had knockbacks. We all stuck together.
WOAP: I think the football we played that season was the best I’ve ever seen at Valley Parade. What did it feel like to play in this brilliant team?
It was tremendous! To be part of that team was incredible. The way we tackled, and we played really good football too. I think when we went onto the field we would be prepared to battle, and would earn the right to play. What we also had in that team were really strong characters and a lot of honesty. If someone in the team wasn’t doing their job, they would be told by the rest of the team, and the gaffer, and they would take it on board and try to recover.
WOAP: You chipped in with the odd spectacular goal yourself. I remember hugging you in the Kop when you scored a stormer against Grimsby in the FA Cup, and then of course there was that outstanding run down the middle against Norwich…
Yeah that’s right! I was never renowned for my goalscoring, but I did chip in with a goal or two here and there. I remember the Grimsby goal and the Norwich goal especially. Against Norwich, I picked up the ball in the centre of midfield and just kept running forwards, then I got one-on-one with the goalkeeper and ended up slotting it into the net.
WOAP: Towards the end of the season, Dean Windass and Lee Sharpe arrived and results stuttered. Did these players aid or hinder the dressing room?
To be fair, Deano scored some important goals for us that season. He was a good player and good fit for the team. I think the squad needed to have a bit of competition. You can’t have a team where everyone knows they will definitely be playing, because then they know they don’t have to perform every week. But if you have someone looking over your shoulder and putting pressure on you, if you have anything about you it makes you perform better. Certainly I had that pressure all the time I was at Bradford, with the likes of Dan Petrescu signed to take my position. I never took my place for granted.
There was also Sharpey, who I roomed with at the time. To be fair to Sharpey, he was a top man and his ability was second to none. I think that if he had of had my application and workrate to go with that, he probably would have played 100 times for England.
WOAP: What are your memories of Wolves away?
I will never beat that day! I’ve had promotions and won a cup at Leicester, but Wolves beats all of them because I felt like I’d played such a big part in getting to that point. We were so up against it that day. We went 1-0 down when Robbie Keane scored, although I think it was a foul on Walshy actually. Then I remember things like, at 3-1 up Bradford fans doing the ‘oles’, then we missed that penalty to go 4-1 up. It then came back to 3-2, they hit the post, had a penalty shout. It was just so nerve-wracking!
But then celebrating with the fans after, who had been absolutely fantastic all day. And of course then when we got back to Bradford, Macca fell off the car! It was an absolutely tremendous day.
WOAP: What were the celebrations like that evening?
Ha ha – I went out for about three days! I said to the Telegraph & Argus that, later that night, you’ll probably find me drunk in a gutter somewhere. I was true to my words!
WOAP: As City started life in the Premiership you were injured until October, did you fear for your place?
No I didn’t, because I had done all of pre-season really well. When I played for Leicester in the Premier League, with my background and late start into the game, I never really knew how to be professional. Things like not going out and not drinking. I never knew how much it affected me.
So that pre-season, I never touched a drop of drink. I was running every day to get myself really fit and I was absolutely flying. I’d also just signed a four-year contract, and Paul Jewell was telling me that I was a big part of his plans.
But then I got injured the day before the team flew to St. Kitts for a pre-season tour. Which I was gutted about. But I got back to fitness and worked really hard, and then got myself back into the side.
WOAP: And when you did come back, you had the ‘Guinness’ haircut. Later on that season you kept changing the colour of your hair. Was this a confidence thing?
It was a little a bit of a confidence thing. It was to get noticed as well. I got a lot of stick for it from the other players, the gaffer was shocked. And it was a thing where, because of my hair, I knew that I had to perform well – or I was going to get a lot of stick from crowds!
WOAP: How did the pressure of playing for a club near the top of Division One compare to fighting for survival in the Premier League?
Everyone expected us to go down that season. Rodney Marsh said we was going down. But as a group of lads in that changing room, along with the fans, we had the belief that we could stay up. Outside of that, I don’t think there was anyone else who believed we could stay up.
But we really enjoyed proving people wrong. We took it game by game, and we especially made Valley Parade a fortress. Teams didn’t like coming here, especially in winter. Even Liverpool on the last game of the season weren’t happy. Teams didn’t like coming into such a small changing room, being cold, only one toilet for both teams to share, nowhere to plug in your hairdryer, and all this stuff.
WOAP: The 5-4 at West Ham is still shown on ESPN Classic every so often. You scored two goals – the second a wonder strike – yet you must have mixed memories of that day…
We thought that we were going down after that. But if you look back at that West Ham team, I think three or four of them went on to play for England. It was the first time in my career that I’d scored two goals in one game, but I’d rather have not scored at all and we won the game.
But at one stage we were in control of the game, 4-2 up, and then we hit the post. We thought we’d beaten them, and I was thinking ‘great game to play in’. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t come out of the game on the right side of the scoring. I remember there was Paulo Di Canio sitting on the half way line at one stage, pleading with Harry Redknapp to take him off, because he’d had a few penalty appeals turned down, wrongly probably. I wish they had have taken him off, because then we would have won that game!
WOAP: City looked doomed by April, yet you turned it round…
I got injured around that time, and I had to miss the Sunderland game which I was gutted about, because I’d started my career there. A few weeks before we’d played Newcastle, and then the next day we were training and I’d gone in for a challenge and got injured. I was gutted. I went for an X-ray, and I was ruled out for a few weeks.
I had just got back to fitness and in the team against Leicester at the end of the season. In between we had the Derby game at home where we drew 4-4, and then beat Sunderland, when Tumble (John Dryer) scored that goal – what he was doing so far up the pitch, I will never know! Then we beat Wimbledon at home, and it was in our own hands.
But true to form with City, we made it difficult for ourselves in getting beaten 3-0 at Leicester, and that took it to the last game of the season.
WOAP: You were outstanding in that final game vs Liverpool – you looked like you were really enjoying yourself – what are your memories of that day?
Well I don’t think anyone knew this, but leading up to the game I found out that my Old Man was dying. So it was a really tough week and my head was all over the place. I spoke to Paul Jewell prior to the weekend, and he said, ‘we need you on Sunday, go and do it for your Old Man’. So I went out on that pitch, and I did do it for my Old Man.
The whole team came together that day, and we just knew beforehand that we were going to do it.
WOAP: Everything changed that summer and not for the better, in the end. As an established player, what was it like when you saw all these new signings come in on huge wages?
Obviously Chris Hutchings took over as manager that summer, and signed Dan Petrescu, then he got Carbone, David Hopkin and Ashley Ward – although I thought Ward was a very good addition and had the right character. He was a grafter too. Peter Atherton and Ian Nolan were similar.
But when you were seeing those players come in, we were thinking ‘we got the club into the Premier League and we kept them there, but now they are bringing people in on £40k a week, and weren’t even from West Yorkshire’. We all loved the club, we loved the fans; we gave everything and didn’t earn a lot. And then these players were just coming in for the money.
I believe that we stayed up that first season because everyone gave 100%. We couldn’t have carried anyone. We weren’t good enough to carry anyone. Now we were carrying the likes of Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu.
WOAP: Where did it go wrong in that second season?
I think that Chris Hutchings was out of his depth. If Paul Jewell would have stayed, he would not have signed those players. Best thing would have been to not sign those players, and we could have stayed up that season. Our aim should have been to be like a Leicester; where what Martin O’Neill did was keep the core of the team, and keep adding grafters year on year, the likes of Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet.
That’s the way to do it, not go and sign these so-called football stars who had been at top clubs.
WOAP: A lot of players departed once it was obvious we were doomed to go down. Did you want to leave?
I always wanted to stay. Under Hutchings I was not part of his plans, and that’s why I was on the transfer list. But then after we had such poor results, he started to go back to tried and trusted and that meant he went back to me.
He then got sacked after Charlton away. Then Macca took over for a few games and he started playing me in the centre of midfield, as part of a midfield three. Which I really enjoyed.
WOAP: What was Jim Jefferies like? He didn’t seem to favour you…
At first he never seemed to play me, and then I broke my arm playing for Jamaica and had to have another operation as well. When I finished that, and I was coming back, he wanted to play me. But then he got sacked. So I didn’t play much for him, but he was alright with me.
He was very honest with me, I could always go to his office and speak to him about things. We never had a problem. All I want from a manager is for them to be honest. That’s all I can ask for from anyone. I’ve been a manager myself, and you can’t play everyone. So just be honest with people.
WOAP: City struggled back in Division One, but you got more game time under Nicky Law…
Nicky Law was really good for me. He absolutely loved me as a player. I think I was probably one of the first names on his team sheet. He was quality for me. He also started playing me in the centre of midfield. I then also started playing in the centre of midfield for Jamaica, which was great. I’ve got a lot of time for Nicky.
WOAP: The following summer came administration and the club attempted to sack you and 18 other players. That must have been hugely difficult. Did you feel let down?
I remember exactly where I was when I heard I’d been sacked. I was on holiday in Ayia Napa with Barry Hayles and Kevin Betsy. I was watching Sky Sports, drinking a Guiness, and looked at the TV and saw the announcement that my contract had been terminated. I thought, ‘what’s going on there? I’d better tighten the purse strings for the rest of my holiday!’
I didn’t know where the next wage was coming from, and a few clubs rung me about signing. But we were told that the club couldn’t sack us, so we came back for pre-season even though we weren’t being paid. There was the likes of Wayne Jacobs, Aidan Davison, Andy Myers, Ashley Ward – we all mucked in together and moved on. We forgot about the fact we weren’t being paid, and I think we became a closer bunch through that adversity.
WOAP: You had one last season at City, after the administration, and the team did very well under difficult circumstances…
Yeah, we did really well that season. We had some young players as well, and in general we didn’t have as good a squad as we had before. I was probably one of the most senior men in the changing room. I took on that responsibility, and went out of my way to welcome the new players into the club. I did whatever it took to make them feel welcome – even taking them to strip clubs!
WOAP: How difficult was it to leave to Walsall?
I never wanted to leave. But towards the end of that season I spoke to Shaun Harvey and he said ‘the money we can offer you, is an embarrassment to offer you; so I don’t really want to offer it to you’. I had a bad feeling about going to Walsall anyway.
I never wanted to go. What I should have done is stayed at Bradford, and seen what panned out over the summer. Because that turned out to be the worst move of my career.
WOAP: How does your time at City compare to the rest of your career?
I enjoyed my time at Bradford the most. When I was fit, I played most of the time. Everything about the club was so warm. The fans were amazing, I felt loved. It was a family club and it suited me down to the ground.
I had a good time at Leicester, but I never felt as part of it. I had a good time at Doncaster and I had a good time at Sunderland, my first club. But Bradford, for me, knocked the spots off everything else.
WOAP: These days City have a long-standing problem of playing at Valley Parade, partly because of impatient crowds. How did you find the experience of playing at Valley Parade?
I loved it – but I’m a fighter anyway. The pressure doesn’t worry me. I like to get into people’s faces and I loved living up to the expectations of the crowd. One thing with me is I won’t hide. I will always face it and work hard to try and win football games. Even if it’s going bad for you – I was taught – try and stop the man next to you from playing.
WOAP: Your difficult background is obviously well-known. How much did the time in prison and fact you got a second chance influence the way in which you played football?
I’ve never had nothing in my life. I’ve had to work for everything. And with many fans, they haven’t got much money but they come and watch football every week. If you’re giving your all, they will appreciate that. So that’s the least you should give as a footballer. As soon as I walk across that white line, I’m going to give my all.
I hate losing, even to my kids at tidily winks! You know if they beat me, they will have earned it. That’s how I play on a football pitch as well.
WOAP: Do you stay in touch with any of the players from your City days?
I’ve stayed in touch with near enough every single one of them. That’s how close we were. Sometimes in football you’re friends with people, but as soon as you move to another club you don’t speak to them. But at Bradford we had a special bunch of boys, and that’s still the case. So I might not speak to some of them for two or three months, but I can pick up the phone and we pick up where we left off.
WOAP: You’re an absolute legend to so many City fans – how are you finding getting so much love via Twitter?
I love the Twitter experience! I never really knew what people thought about me, and it’s nice to read the comments I’ve been receiving from City fans. I appreciate every single one of them.