For plenty, Lawrie Wilson remains associated with his time as a Championship player at Charlton Athletic. Or perhaps for the preceding era, as Stevenage rose up through the leagues, all the way to the promotion-chasing pack of League One.
It was also not so long ago that he was helping Bolton Wanderers on their way back to the second tier as League One runners-up. More recently, the 32-year-old full-back/midfielder’s endeavours away from the pitch have shifted into the foreground, but he was announced this week as an impressive new addition for Jamie O’Hara’s Billericay Town. The ex-Ebbsfleet man begins his latest chapter with every intention of adding more achievements to a varied voyage in English football. He joins us here for a look back, and ahead…
When it was announced you’d be leaving Ebbsfleet (in late-June), you mentioned the likelihood of your next move being ‘more part-time to pursue outside interests and other future career aspects.’ So tell me about that and how it fits alongside this move to Billericay.
Yeah, I’m still very goal-driven and wanna succeed in football, get promotions and things like that, so that’s still very much at the forefront whenever I’m playing football. With the work side of things, my brother-in-law actually started a company up a few years ago, and with his business partner, asked me to come on board on one aspect of the company. They just sort of said to me ‘look, we really think this will benefit you, send out a good image about life/health insurance, business protection etc.’ They said ‘why don’t you start doing this now so that there’s something for you to go into when you do retire?’ I am also in my last month of my degree in sports writing and broadcasting. So as I was slowing down more, I was able to do a few more little things on the side. I got offered another deal at Ebbsfleet but it was full-time. Billericay came in and said what they could offer, the evenings training and stuff, and to be honest, the whole set-up there at the moment seems to be going in a really good direction. With the support behind them from the owners, the pitch being changed to a 4G, and with being able to give my full attention during the week to the company, it just seemed like the right thing to do really.
With obviously arranging what was next football-wise, the work commitments, but also just in general, what has life been like over these past few months for you?
It’s a hard one really because in my heart of hearts, you wanna be a footballer and you wanna play 24/7, and you think you’re gonna play forever. This period, though, was a bit of a blessing for me, in that it gave me such an extended break from football. I’m usually used to 6-8 weeks and then being back to it again; this was three or four months of no football. Even when the Premier League was back on, it sort of didn’t appeal to me, because I knew that wasn’t my standard of football, so I kind of wasn’t missing out on football. It’s come at a time where I was able to give a lot more time to the company in those months. Luckily, the company was doing well so that we were in a position where I was able to take something from it, which obviously helps in a very big way. So if I could take any positive out of this pandemic, it would probably be that. It’s come at a time where my income from football is actually secondary.
Maintaining some fitness aside, what kind of other things in lockdown were getting you through? TV series, films? Were you getting on the quizzes?!
To start with, because we obviously didn’t know if we were going to be coming back, it was all about keeping fit. I’m fortunate I’ve had quite a nice career and I’ve got a gym at home, so I had the essential stuff that you need to be keeping fit. Then when the season finished early, because we didn’t know when we’d be going back, I was like ‘I can’t just keep training and training and training,’ so I tend to have two weeks off in a normal season, where I don’t do anything and I have a complete break. This time it ended up being a month completely off! That was quite hard for me, trying to not do anything for a month and then slowly build back up again. My wife carried on working from home, so I actually became the stay-at-home dad, Daddy Day Care. It’s obviously hard but it’s also given me a time I otherwise never would have had with my son.
Not a bad morning’s work for @BTFC manager @Mrjamieohara1 with two exceptional signings in @Lawrie_Wilson and @FrankieJay_ Things starting to take shape very nicely. #BTFC #ACommunityClub pic.twitter.com/pvr7i6MOCH
— Billericay Town FC Press (@BTFCPress) August 4, 2020
Back to the ‘day job’ we associate you with…you’ve had a good mix of managers by now, what have you found works best with you in terms of approach? Which manager(s) has seemed to understand that the best?
There’s actually probably three. The first one I’d probably say, Graham Westley, because as a team, and for myself, I achieved so much in that time (at Stevenage) with him. I wouldn’t say we had the most glowing rapport with each other; we didn’t have any kind of bad feelings but it was strictly business. He knew how to play me, and the things I didn’t know about myself, he kind of knew. He always played down whether I played well or not, so it would be ‘right, you’re 6 out of 10’ whereas everyone else was an 8. Even though we won and I played well, he would always kind of bring me back down to earth. He would always keep me on my toes, so leading up to the game, I would be thinking ‘I don’t think I’m gonna play,’ and then I’d play. I had a really good time football-wise with Chris Powell (at Charlton). He was fantastic, because he was a player, he knew everything, and he brought me to the club, so there was always a trust from him and myself. I always felt because he wanted me at the club and they paid a fee for me, there was very much an ‘I owe it to you as much as myself to perform.’ Lastly, I’d probably say Phil Parkinson. We got promotion (at Bolton in 2017), I played 30-odd games, got injured at the end of the season, unfortunately. He very much would just tell you exactly what was going to happen in the game, drilled everything into you, and then it was ‘go out and do it.’ He would concentrate a lot on the defence and that unit, so I had a good spell with him, but the two managers that brought the most out of me would be Chris Powell and Graham Westley.
Obviously years of memories at Stevenage, but to pick out that League One play-off season (2011/12) under Gary Smith after Graham Westley left (for Preston in January). Stevenage knocking on the door of the Championship, 5-1 wins, 6-1, 6-0, why do you think that was, and what kind of place was it to be around?
Yeah, I actually spoke to somebody recently about that season, and if there’s one thing I look back on with Stevenage, Graham Westley, that whole era, it’s that I wish we’d have played out that season as we were. Most of the players stayed, there were a few that left in that time that Graham did, but if everyone had stayed, I would have just loved to have seen where that would have taken us. Maybe we would have won automatic, won the play-offs, or maybe we wouldn’t have even made the play-offs, who knows? It just would have been nice to put an end to that story and that whole era of us at Stevenage. Saying that, it was brilliant, because it was the unknown, nobody knew us, and we knew our roles and our jobs so well. We were just turning over teams and it was mind-boggling really, what we were doing. Credit to Gary as well when he came in, because things could have got really bad if a manager had come in and really tried to change things. It was a very tight-knit group who were set in their ways and Gary was very good in that he just changed a couple of things and kept everything else the same. That is why we actually probably reached the play-offs.
— Stevenage FC 🔴⚪ (@StevenageFC) November 8, 2013
Right near the end of that season you played a huge part in the promotion outcome between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United when you held United to a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane. It was a televised game, too. Obviously you were concentrating on yourselves, but were you aware how huge that was for Wednesday and United? Were you conscious of what was going on at all?
Actually not really, because at that time, we were trying to get in the play-offs, so it was very much just ‘make sure we do our job, try and beat them.’ They were both very good teams in that league at that time, so for us, it was just ‘beat them’ because we knew as well that we were probably gonna have to play them again anyway. So it was just ‘cement our place and then the other stuff falls in place,’ and luckily for Wednesday, it fell in their place.
Were you getting any Wednesday fans thanking you for it, maybe on Twitter?
I think we had quite a lot, to be honest! A lot of people tweeting say ‘oh, you’ve done us a favour’ and all that kind of stuff, but you could tell at the game as well the United fans were obviously frustrated with it all.
Going up the levels personally like you did, did it feel each time like ‘yeah, I can compete in this league,’ or do you remember a time where it was initially like ‘ooh, not sure here’?
I always say to players, younger players or players winning promotion, and I always felt this when I went up a league, I think that it takes you 6-8 games to actually get yourself settled in a league. So when you first go up, you’re running on adrenaline for the first couple. Then, let’s say as a full-back, you get players suddenly starting making different runs. Suddenly players start being able to find gaps that you usually leave and now can’t leave, they’re more physical, they’re stronger, they’re more clever. All these things come into play and you’re suddenly thinking ‘oh actually, I’ve never had to mark someone that does that before.’ So you have to adapt quickly, but I would say that it takes 6-8 games as a player to start to fully understand a league, how to win games and all the bits that come with it. The first time I went into the Championship, I was like ‘oh, I might be a little bit off here.’ The good thing is if you move to a club in the Championship, you’re joining players who already train that way, but the way I’ve done things, I’ve moved up with the teams, so the whole squad are actually learning.
Were there any individual opponents that had you thinking ‘this is a bit of an education!’?
Michail Antonio was one of them. I remember quite vividly, to be honest. The first time that I played against him, he got the ball around the halfway line and I was five or ten yards from him, and he kicked it past me. He kicked it too hard and it was going out of play, in the bottom corner, but he managed to basically catch up with me by the time we got to the ball. (Fernando) Forestieri was one as well; it was very much the little sharp movements. Every winger is different and that’s what you need to grab straight away, and in the first 5-10 minutes be like ‘right, that’s the type of player I’m playing against today’ and know how to manage him.
We’ve talked about significant spells you’ve had, and of course they all mean something, but when you reflect at this point, was there a time that felt the most complete picture overall for you? When was happiest?
For the most complete, so family, going into training, the squad, the manager, absolutely everything, I would say my first two seasons at Charlton. That would be the pinnacle of ‘this is what football is about.’ The community of the squad, the wives and girlfriends, they all met each other, we used to go for dinners together. The car school that I used to travel in with, we used to go on holidays together, and that I personally think reflected on to the pitch. It was such a tight-knit group that whether you were playing or you weren’t playing, you wanted the same for each other. Some clubs are very sort of harsh on the wives and girlfriends, and you don’t have much time together, and it kind of puts strain on whether the boys wanna do anything, bits and bobs like that, whereas at Charlton, it was very open. That was probably the best time.
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) July 9, 2020
So that spell at Charlton, or even your career overall, who were those main characters who would bring everything to life in the dressing room?
At Charlton, you had the likes of Ben Hamer and John Sullivan; those two got on like a house on fire. Simon Church as well, he was always a good laugh. They were the ones who always kept it lively when you came in. Johnnie Jackson’s a very close friend of mine and I used to travel in with him every day with Michael Morrison, so we had a really good group of lads there and that always made it enjoyable going in. David Wheater was very good to have around the squad; you could always rely on him to give you a laugh. You had Mark Davies at Bolton; he was always up to mischief, that’s what I’d say about him!
With Mark Davies, would I be right in saying he’d be one in training where at times you’d be thinking ‘wow, that’s some ability’?
If he didn’t have any injuries, there is no doubt in my mind that he would still be playing in the Premier League now. He was kind of like Messi, where it looks like he’s going to overrun it, and then he dribbles around somebody. You used to think ‘how on earth has he got past that person?’ But because he was quite small, he would do that and go into tackles that he probably shouldn’t go into, and he’d end up coming out worse.
We’ve mentioned standout good times but what about the toughest time? I suppose not getting paid on time would be in there?
The most difficult time for me personally, I would say would be the injuries, in all honesty. The first major injury I had at Stevenage, at like 21, although it was a long period out, I was so young and so kind of naive. I always knew I was gonna play again, but that was a hard time because I was out for six or seven months, so that was a long period without football. The time with the money, I would say yeah it was tough, but I’m not silly with my money, so even though I wasn’t getting paid, I had enough to tie me over. That was a worry, but it never got to a period where I was like ‘oh no, I’ve got no money.’ So I was just a bit more sensible in that period. Another tough time with Bolton was the last month-and-a-half of being there, because I’d played 30-odd games, got injured against MK Dons, I think, and had to have surgery on my hamstring. My contract was up at the end of that year, so I kind of had the worry of ‘would I get another year?’ but then I also need to get back fit. Midway through getting back fit, I was then told that I wasn’t going to be offered another contract, even though I’d played 33 games I think it was, in a promotion-winning team. Then I needed to see if I was fit again in pre-season, so clubs were quite reluctant to be like ‘there’s a contract.’ That was a hard-ish time for me, although I managed to get a couple of offers and go from there.
Have you ever had to sing when you joined a club? You must have done…
I’ve had to do it at every club, I think! I’ve done a fair few in my time. My main go-to has always been Arctic Monkeys ‘Mardy Bum’. I remember my first ever one at Stevenage, and I was young as well, and I ended up singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.
Football, work and family aside – which is admittedly a pretty big aside – is there time for any other interests in your life we haven’t mentioned?
My wife and I, before we had our son, we loved to travel, and that is our thing. In the summer, as soon as the season finishes, we go travelling. We basically pick a destination and pack our bags, and book a flight there and back, and do the rest whilst we’re out there. That’s always been our thing, and now that our son’s nearly three, we are gonna be able to hopefully do some more travelling next summer. Other than that, I play a bit of golf, but I actually just enjoy family time, to be honest. Going on bike rides; we’re quite an outdoorsy family.
Finally, as you look back at this point, what have you learned the most from the game? Do you see a contrast between yourself now and that young player at Stevenage?
In football terms, obviously I know the game inside out now, and if you could go back now, knowing what you know now, that’s one of those sorts of things. It’s made me be a lot more understanding. The main thing I would probably say is it’s made me learn how to be adaptable to change, because in football, things change very, very quickly. You need to be able to change and you need to accept change. Managers come and go very quickly, players come and go. One minute you’re not playing because of a manager, and then suddenly you are, or a new manager comes in and suddenly you need to learn how they want to play. If you can’t adapt to that, you won’t go very far.
Interview by @chris_brookes