my own goal: Mark Lawrenson

THE former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland defender looks back to his days as manager of Oxford United and the moment when his inexperience ended up costing him his job. With a little help from a man called Maxwell . . .

Mark Lawrenson: IT WAS October 1988. I'd only been in charge of Oxford for seven months, my first managerial job after giving up the game the previous March because of an Achilles tendon injury.

I'd suffered it during a match against Wimbledon at Anfield. I remember bringing the ball out of defence, and John Fashanu coming in to challenge. The next thing I knew I was on the ground in agony and I assumed Fash must have done it. But I was jumping to conclusions. He never touched me. The tendon just went as I was running along.

At the end of the 1987-88 season, I still got my Liverpool League champions' medal, because I'd played the required number of games. But I also got relegated from the then First Division with Oxford United. We finished bottom, so I'm the answer to a verygood quiz question.

We'd made a decent enough start to the season - we were sixth in the table as I recall. We had people like Tommy Caton and Trevor Hebberd in the team, but we were still a few players short of having a side that could go up, and there wasn't a lot of money about. Our star player was Dean Saunders and the chairman, Kevin Maxwell, and I agreed that if we didn't get promotion at the end of the season we would have to sell him.

The next thing was it was a Saturday and we had a home game against Blackburn Rovers. It was an hour and a quarter before kick-off, and I'd just finished talking to the players about tactics and how we would go about things. I was in my office sorting out tickets and such like, all the routine sort of things that you do before a match, and I was least expecting what would happen next.

The phone went. It was Kevin Maxwell. Dean Saunders was free to talk to Derby County, he told me - the club his father was chairman of. I couldn't believe it. I knew we might have to lose Dean at the end of the season, but not now. He was a player who could win a match on his own, always likely to nick a goal.

The next day I went to a meeting with Kevin and Robert Maxwell in London. The bottom line was, Robert Maxwell told me, it was none of my business. I really blew my top at him. I told him he could stuff his job. I drove home in complete bewilderment. The

next day, the Monday, I went into my office to tender my resignation, to be told I was being sacked. The reason given was that I'd spoken to the press about what was happening, when in fact I hadn't done anything of the kind. It had all been "no comment"


The whole episode had happened in less than 48 hours. It still rankles with me. I remember I got a lot of letters of support from people in football, who thought I'd been treated very badly.

The point of this story is that in a way I blame myself. If I'd been around in management a bit longer, had a couple of years in the job, I'd have been able to anticipate the way these things work. I'd have made sure I'd got some cover lined up for Dean Saunders well in advance. I should have seen what was coming.

After Oxford, I was out of football for a while, but then in the spring of 1989 I had the chance to do some coaching in America and I went off to join Tampa Bay Rowdies. I was back in September that year and took over at Peterborough United, who were th e n in the old Fourth Division.

I had just over a year there, but things didn't work out even though we made quite a good start to the 1990-91 season. I left in the November. Since then I've been doing media work and I'm enjoying that very much.

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