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From Schoolboy to Footballer to Pundit

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A level PE students, the 1st XI football team and elite athletes from Bolton School enjoyed a fascinating insight into the world of professional football from former internationals Mark Lawrenson and Trevor Sinclair. The professionals turned TV pundits spent one and a half hours talking about their school days, footballing careers, punditry and life. 

Lawrenson recalled his schooldays fondly, time spent at Preston Catholic College, a Jesuit Grammar School, where pupils were encouraged to speak in Latin; something which he said helped him with other European languages and in his attaining of A levels in French and Spanish. His mother had wanted him to be a priest but he had wanted to be a professional cricketer. It was only when his cricket coach told him to give up football that he decided that cricket was not for him.  

Recapping his career, he recalled the day he made his debut for Preston North End as being the proudest moment of his footballing life and the best match he played in.  He played 73 times for Preston before moving to Brighton and Hove Albion (ahead of the 1977-78 season) who outbid Liverpool for him.  In retrospect, he thinks this was for the best as he may not have made it into the Liverpool team at that stage but he did get to play for Brighton, where his performances earned him a call-up to the Republic of Ireland team. Liverpool then saw his ability on the international stage and signed him up for a record club fee of £900,000 in 1981. On the day he signed for Liverpool, he said he could have also signed for Manchester United or Arsenal. It took him a little while to settle on his best position of centre half, initially ousting Alan Kennedy from the left-back position and also playing in midfield. Asked what was the secret to his formidable partnership with Alan Hansen, he joked that it was that they both spoke Latin (which was true but only something they realised later in life). He went on to spend 6 and a half years at Liverpool, winning the league an incredible 5 times, including 3 times on the trot in his first 3 years at the club. He also won the FA Cup, the League Cup 4 times and, in 1984 the European Cup. His career came to a premature end at the age of 29 after an Achilles tendon injury. 

Trevor Sinclair recalled his schooldays less fondly. He grew up living between Manchester and Bury and told how he “put all his eggs in one basket” by focussing on becoming a football player. Looking back, he was thankful that he joined Blackpool at the age of 16 as he was beginning to get into trouble on his Whitefield council estate. He was also proud to have been chosen to attend Lilleshall, having been selected from a nationwide trial; others who attended at the time included Gary Flitcroft, Sol Campbell, Andy Cole and Nick Barmby. His career spanned 20 years and he played at Blackpool, Queen’s Park Rangers, West Ham United, Manchester City and Cardiff.  He said he did not win a single medal during all this time but still enjoyed every moment of it. Both players saw themselves as being “in the right place at the right time” and recognised that they were very lucky to have had such careers in football - especially considering that over 90% of players signed by clubs do not go on to have a career in the game. 

Sinclair also played for England U21s with the likes of Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp. At the age of 22 he was called up to the full England squad and went on to earn 12 caps, playing alongside the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Tony Adams and Paul Ince. He also featured in the in the 2002 World Cup, where he played alongside the likes of Beckham and Scholes. England were knocked out by Brazil, who went on to win the competition. He is now Assistant Manager at Lancaster City. 

In an extensive questions and answers session, both players spoke candidly about their careers and views. Asked who the best player they ever played with or against, Sinclair answered David Beckham and Paul Scholes and Lawrenson said, without question, it was Kenny Dalglish. He said if you asked anyone in the 1980s’ Liverpool team, they would give you the same answer. He said: “he couldn’t run, he had a big backside and couldn’t head it but was still a footballing genius. He never wore shin-pads and when we questioned him about this he said ‘the day I don’t see a tackle coming is the day I give up’”.

Asked about the ongoing woes of the England team, Lawrenson said “we just don’t do tournaments. It does not help that, by the summer, our players are on their knees having played more games than other players in the frenetic and fast-paced Premier League.” He felt that a lot of senior team players would join the U21s next summer for tournament experience as they compete in the European Championships.

Asked about other football pundits, Sinclair said his favourite show as a youngster had been Saint and Greavsie’s show On the Ball, where they had blended humour with their analysis. He also felt Phil Neville was a great up and coming pundit, having recovered well after taking criticism for his co-commentary in the World Cup. Lawrenson acknowledged Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher on Sky but also said there is a really healthy crop of young pundits coming through including Danny Murphy, Kevin Kilbane, Jermaine Jenas and, of course, Trevor Sinclair. He also spoke fondly about Alan Hansen, who he rated as the best pundit ever, and his time on Match of the Day, where he said there is a lot of mickey-taking and camaraderie. He said he does enjoy attending matches for the radio but sometimes when it is bitterly cold, it is nice to be in the Match of the Day studio. Having spent a lifetime in football, something which he has always loved, he said he had never considered any of his roles as a job. However, he did make the point that some players today do not love football in the way that his generation did and that he believes some are in it purely for the money and prestige. 

Asked at what point both realised they had a chance of becoming a footballer, Sinclair said he did not start playing properly until he was 10 years old but probably realised he had a chance by the age of 13 or 14. Lawrenson recalled playing for Preston schoolboys at the age of 14 as a quick left winger, who became adept at dodging tackles. He also trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights with Preston North End and it was around this time he realised he had a chance. 

Lawrenson also talked about his brief spell as a manager at Oxford United and as a defensive coach at Newcastle United. He resigned at Oxford after star striker Dean Saunders was sold by the board of directors and without consulting him as manager. He felt if he let this go, it would be an unhealthy precedent. However, as an employee of Robert Maxwell, he was not allowed to resign and was given a pay off. From Oxford, he moved to US and spent one season at Tampa Bay Rowdies in the American Soccer League. 

Darren Peacock, who played eight seasons in the Premier for Queen’s Park Rangers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers was also in the audience.  He is currently manager of Lancaster City, where Trevor Sinclair is his Assistant Manager. 

The afternoon was arranged by Boys’ Division PE Teacher, Mr Ian Hughes, who is Reserve Team Coach at Lancaster City and knows Darren Peacock, who is the Manager and Trevor Sinclair, who is Assistant Manager.

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Mark Lawrenson, Trevor Sinclair and Darren Peacock at Bolton School

Mark Lawrenson, Trevor Sinclair and Darren Peacock at Bolton School with Mr Hughes and athletes from the School

Mark Lawrenson answers questions

Trevor Sinclair spoke about his recollections of the 2002 World Cup