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Interview: Mark Lawrenson - I am New Man. I change, dress and feed my son and I'd kill anyone who hurt him; FORMER SOCCER HARDMAN MARK LAWRENSON LINES UP FOR A NEW MANAGERIAL ROLE... HELPING LOOK AFTER HIS BABY BOY SAM.

MANCHESTER United winger Ryan Giggs had played a Premiership match with a slight hamstring injury.

As an appreciative TV audience tuned in to the highlights, Giggs was shown sprinting away with the ball from well inside his own half.

He ran two-thirds of the field, racing past defenders, before delivering a goal-scoring chance to colleague Andy Cole which he couldn't miss.

"Brilliant play by Giggs," declared the Match Of The Day pundit. "And if that's a dodgy hamstring, I want two of them."

Welcome to the new world of former Republic of Ireland inter-national Mark Lawrenson - astute soccer analysis with an amusing quip never far away.

But while the ex-Liverpool defender, 42, enjoys a joke in his TV role, his private life has taken on a new seriousness - not least nine months ago when his son Sam arrived some four weeks early at Southport General Hospital.

He was there at the birth to hold the hand of his 33-year-old girlfriend and nurse Sue Culshaw.

"All right, I'll say it - I am over the Moon," said Lawrenson. "Being there at the birth was incredible.

"The biggest surprise I got was when we went to take Sam away... we needed a double decker bus to shift all the gear.

" I am New Man...when I'm home. I do feed and change the baby and put him to bed. I get up with Sam. I enjoy having him.

"It would give me a reason to kill somebody if they ever harmed him. I'm so protective.

" I don't think about being an 'old dad' because I still feel so young.

"But I was shocked when Sue told me she was pregnant. I didn't say anything for a while....it took a while to sink in.

"Now I get so guilty about not being there when I'm working. I have this fear that I'll get home and Sam won't recognise me."

Lawrenson wasn't smiling much last summer either when he was given a Sunday roasting over his sex life.

His long, thin tanned face can just about see the joke now, but the ribbing at workwent on for weeks.

There was no stopping his studio playmates - grinning Gary Lineker and Scottish smoothy Alan Hansen - giving him a hammering.

They took great pleasure - apart from the ever-polite Trevor Brooking - in putting the boot in when the ladies in his life slid out of the woodwork and were less than complimentary.

"Yes, they had their fun...plenty of it. I was a massive joke for ages,'' recalls Lawrenson.

"Luckily we get on very well and it was in good spirit. They certainly had their fun. Boys will be boys.

"It was 'Come on, let's go to the bar...OK don't worry Lawro, we know YOU haven't got any cash on you'. That kind of stuff.

"If you're up there on television, you're going to be shot down.

"Still, we move on, don't we? No point in dwelling on these things.

"But me, a womaniser? I don't think so. Mind you, I suppose having read that little lot they'd have people believe there was a trail of broken hearts across Britain."

To this day he's not sure what prompted the full double-fronted attack on his off-screen personality.

First, on to the "field" came his blonde ex-wife, vengeful Vanessa. She laid into him with accusations of him being an appalling skinflint, banning her from carrying credit cards and making her work on the eve of their wedding in the pub they owned.

He wore the designer suits while she had to shop at the Co-op, she claimed.

Then, off the "subs bench" came blistering brunette Beth Mitchell, the girlfriend who occupied his nights while he coached at Newcastle United.

She kicked him right in the penalty area with more tales over his inability to get his hand into his wallet.

What's more, she suggested he had a weird obsession with mammoth Weatherfield butcher Fred "I say, I say" Elliott from Coronation Street, and used to laze in front of the telly watching his favourite soap while guzzling boxes of Quality Street.

Lawrenson sighs, smiles and appears semi-exasperated while he sips fizzy water. He has been in Paris covering the European Cup Final and raced back on Eurostar to coach a bunch of lads in a pub side in Ipswich later that day.

"I don't want to get into it but so much of that stuff was untrue," says Lawrenson whose first marriage at the age of 18 to a girl called Ellie from Brighton lasted nine months.

"I have only owned one Boss suit in my life. Friends who knew both me and Vanessa laughed about it, believe me.

"Eating chocolates? Maybe once in my life. So what? I do like Fred Elliott. He's funny. I like Coronation Street, when I have time to watch it which isn't that often.

"I actually feel sorry for the bloke..I mean having to repeat himself all the time...when will they ever give him a proper script?

"It's true I was never a big spender. I was never that interested in flashy cars (he owns a powerful BMW but drives a company Ford Mondeo) or gambling.

"My mother Theresa taught me to be careful, to watch the pennies.

"She also taught me how to pack a bag which has come in incredibly handy because I travel so much.

"I confess! I am very neat and organised. She had me folding me boxer shorts or she'd give me hell.. 'Put your dirty washing in separate plastic bags'.

" But I have to be organised. I don't have an agent or a secretary. I don't feel I need one. I do the arrangements myself and it seems to work out.

"What with mobiles and fax machines you can always stay in touch. But I'm not work obsessed, I have a life. I think I get the balance right."

"I mainly felt sorry for Sue because she got embroiled in all that nasty stuff and was pregnant by me at the time."

Mark's joy at being a dad now is doubled because of the disappointments of his marriage.

He said: "When I was with Vanessa we tried for children and we had all kinds of tests over the years.

"There was nothing wrong with either of us but nothing happened. It was very upsetting and caused many tears.

"I suppose that was the beginning of the end for us. It was all very amicable when we parted, but then it got nasty and I can't even tell you the last time we spoke.

"Whenever we played Everton the fans there said I was gay so I suppose leaving this so-called trail of women across Britain certainly put up my street cred.

"That was a new twist. But does anyone take it seriously? "

Back in the Eighties tall, gangling Lawrenson was one of the great Liverpool stars and Alan Hansen's imposing partner at the centre of the team's defence. He started his career in his home town of Preston - his father Tommy also played for the club - during the brief period when Sir Bobby Charlton was having a crack at management.

At Anfield he won five First Division Championships, four Football League cups and a European Cup medal. He also played 38 times for the Republic of Ireland, his nominated country through his Waterford-born mother. His career was brought to a tragic end at the age of 30 in 1988 when he snapped his achilles tendon.

He says: " I had an operation and carried on playing for 16 months but I was an imposter.I had lost all of my pace and couldn't put myself about.

"If I had left to play somewhere else it would have been a downward spiral. Anyway, I wouldn't have passed the medical.

"I saw a number of specialists but in the end it was a guy in Oswestry who taught people to walk again after serious car accidents who sat me down and said, 'How do you want it...black and white or grey?'

"I said, 'Give it to me in black and white' and he said, 'Don't play again'.

"The injury was very restrictive. My ankle would swell up so much I'd have to hold my foot above my head to get the blood circulating.

"I knew the end was coming, I had prepared myself mentally. I knew what was on the cards."

Within 24 hours of departing Liverpool he was managing at Oxford United. His reign didn't last long.

He gave lip to the late media mogul Robert Maxwell who, though chairman of Derby, was also pulling his son Kevin's strings at Oxford.

Lawrenson grins at the memory. "I went into the boardroom at Maxwell's office and he was sitting on his desk. It was bending so much I thought it was going to break in half and it was all I could do to stop myself giggling.

"I told him what I thought of his meddling and that was that. But I'm glad I let rip."

He had another spell in management at Peterborough before joining the ranks of media pundits and becoming a fixture on Grandstand, Match Of The Day and Radio 5 Live.

Later this week he'll be part of the team spearheading the BBC's coverage of Euro 2000.

He rates Lineker as the star of Match Of The Day. "After all." he says, "He's the one with the crisps commercials. He's our straight man, we slaughter him. "

His other screen buddy Hansen - "he was always a better player than me" - lives a few doors away from Lawro's four-bed detached house in what's known locally as "soccer meadows" in Southport, Lancs.

Lawrenson's content with his new career which rakes him in about pounds 200,000 a year. But if Liverpool or Preston came calling with a job offer back in football, he'd be there.

He is a man's man who likes his golf as past girlfriends and one wife have attested.

And he gets a quiet buzz out of fame. After all, top impressionist Alistair McGowan now officially "does" Lawrenson with the rest of the TV soccer mob, often hilariously portraying him as deadly serious and indifferent to the sport he loves.

"He's good isn't he," says Lawrenson. "But I'll get him one day..you'll see."

Euro 2000 Special:

See Pages 37-43
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Waterman, Ivan
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 4, 2000
Words:1727
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