“It is a bit too clean cut now. If you listen to my generation, and the generation of say Roy Keane and then someone else they’ll say the modern game is not what is used to be, they’ll say it is watered down.”
No one can deny that football has changed dramatically both on and off the pitch over the last few decades.
These days players can barely go out for a coffee without ending up on a snapchat story or an Instagram feed, whereas 20 years ago they could get away with all sorts.
And on the pitch things are different to what they were. The game is faster and fitter, but is also bound by tighter rules.
Liam Lawrence, now three years into retirement, is one former player who has lived through those substantial changes and whose career spanned arguably two different eras of the game.
Looking at the game now compared to how it was then, one adjective the former Republic of Ireland international uses to describe modern football is ‘clean cut.’
And on the new rules in the game game, Lawrence is still scratching his head over the latest changes, and in particular why players have recently been enjoying the luxury of drinks breaks.
“It is a bit too clean cut now. If you listen to my generation, and the generation of say Roy Keane and then someone else they’ll say the modern game is not what is used to be, they’ll say it is watered down.
“The rules have changed on tackling. Now we’re getting drinks breaks after 20 minutes. It is ridiculous. People say it is because of Covid and fitness but it was still happening five or six games in. Why are they having breaks? It isn’t Dubai, the weather isn’t killing anyone.
“VAR has come in and ruins things at times. There is the changes in social media, but I avoided using that when playing because it is full of idiots.
“Football is changing all the time, there are so many snowflakes out there now, and you aren’t sure what you can and can’t say.
“Things are monitored massively and you have to be careful who you speak to, where you go.
“When I do the media now I am so careful what terminology I am using, because cameras are always on you.”
Lawrence, now a BBC Radio Stoke commentator, who is doing bits for TalkSport and Sky, and will begin a role with Stoke City’s academy in September, began his career at Mansfield back in 1999 where he made over 100 appearances before signing for Sunderland.
The midfielder spent three years with the Black Cats before departing the North East, after a bust up with none other than Roy Keane.
Not many people have taken on Keane and lived to tell the tale, but Lawrence is one of those after being offered out by his former hero and manager in his office.
“There were some colorful times there and I got on with Roy most of the time.
“He wasn’t a modern day manager and if he didn’t agree with something he would tell you and say it how it was.
“We fell out in training and there was a big bust up where we nearly came to blows and the next day I was down at Stoke.
“It was a good thing in the end because I had my best years at Stoke, but it was a surreal moment.
“He offered me out and I was a United fan growing up. I was face to face with my hero in his office with all the staff in the background and it did make me chuckle a bit. Then I just walked out of his office.”
A four year spell with Stoke followed and under Tony Pulis Lawrence found himself back in the big time, enjoying an early promotion in his time at the club.
It was a time when Stoke became famous for long throws, an aggressive style of play and the phrase ‘can they do it in Stoke on a cold Tuesday night’.
But the stereotype that surrounded that Stoke side did them as a disservice, according to Lawrence.
“It was brilliant at Stoke. Tony had a vision and I bought into it and we went up that year when no one gave us a chance.
“We surprised a lot of people when we got to the Premier League.
“We used to love Arsenal coming to the Britannia as it was then. We would work all week on throw ins and set pieces to rough them up because they were decent at the time.
“It was an attitude of no fear. As long as we could win or be in games at home we know we had a chance of staying up. And Tony bought the pitch in too to help with Rory Delap’s throw ins!
“We had me, Ricardo Fuller up top, Rory, Glenn Whelan, then we brought in Matty Etherington and James Beattie and we had a better side than people gave us credit for.
“It was just because we were good at set pieces and people didn’t like that, it was something new and people don’t like new things.
“We played to our strengths and now you see so many sides launching balls into the box.”
After his game time at Stoke became limited Lawrence signed for Portsmouth, then freshly relegated, and with new owners who were keen to get Pompey back to the top flight.
But the off field financial troubles hadn’t ended and it turned into a nightmare move.
“I should have never left Stoke, it was one of the silliest decisions I’ve ever made.
“I was in and out of the side and Portsmouth were having a real go at getting back up with new owners who were clearing debts and getting new players in.
“Then they got done for fraud and it hit the fan really. Players had to leave, they couldn’t pay wages, staff were getting sacked and it went belly up really, really quickly.”
Then in 2012 Lawrence turned down English sides, including Crystal Palace who went on to win promotion to the Premier League, to taste life in Europe.
Greece was the destination and PAOK. He made 29 appearances in a two year spell, a spell that was littered with stories to make you laugh, but also make the hairs on your neck stand up.
“It is a different world out there in Greece and Turkey. The English and Scottish think they are passionate about football, but out there it is a bloody religion.
“My first game was Rapid Vienna in the Europa League and a flare was thrown into the PAOK family end and the fans were on the pitch, throwing goals and chairs at the other fans, it was bloody mental.
“Then we played Olympiakos and it is a big derby, even though PAOK is in the north and they are in the south.
“Rivalries are usually in the same city, but this was different, however they hated each other.
“We flew up and drew 0-0 and on the way back the police stopped the bus on the motorway and said we had to get off as a thousand of their fans had blocked the road ready to stone the bus.
“We had to drive into the mountains and hide in a petrol station with all the lights off until it was sorted.
“Don’t get me wrong I loved it out there but there are certain things that are a bit much. They get away with a bit too much at times.
“It was good and funnily enough I could have signed for Palace before and didn’t and they ended up going up that year so its funny how things work.”
After a spell with Barnsley Lawrence had a chance encounter with a former coach, Micky Mellon, then the manager of Shrewsbury Town.
The pair got talking on a flight from Dubai and a week later Lawrence was in Shropshire ready to complete a move to Salop.
Lawrence enjoyed a 51 game spell in Shropshire along with a promotion to League One, and left the club with nothing but praise for the set up and chairman Roland Wycherley.
“I went to see Micky at the ground and he told me the plan and it was a great little stadium and a really nice town.
“I signed as captain and we went up to League One in the first year which was brilliant for the town.
“We had some good players, the likes of Connor Goldson and Ryan Woods, James Collins too and that was at a club that lives within their means.
“The chairman isn’t daft or stupid with his money. He backed Micky that season and the players.
“I had a great two years there, the fans were brilliant and I had a good time there.”
Lawrence, now 38, is well into football retirement and his plan for life after the game is in full swing.
Following a successful career at both club and international level, at 31 he began planning for the future in terms of coaching badges and media work.
He didn’t want to become another statistic in the vast number of footballers who fall down the ladder and turn to other things like gambling, drink and drugs to fill the void that the game leaves.
“You’ve got to have a plan. At 31 I knew football wasn’t going to go on forever and I needed to get the house paid off and begin my coaching.
“You hear about lads who come out and don’t know what to do, they have no money left and they get into gambling and drinking, so I made sure I had a plan and that I wasn’t going to go the way other players have gone, because it doesn’t look good.”