Goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux on riots, rubber bullets and rebuilding his career

The goalkeeper was caught up in the Chilean protests when he headed to South America to be closer to the national team set-up.

Nick Mashiter
Friday 24 March 2023 10:04 GMT
Leyton Orient goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux had a life-changing experience in Chile (Simon Galloway/PA).
Leyton Orient goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux had a life-changing experience in Chile (Simon Galloway/PA). (PA Archive)

As the supermarkets burned in Chile, Lawrence Vigouroux found a unique sense of perspective.

Just three months earlier, in July 2019, the goalkeeper had moved to Concon, on the Pacific coast, looking to force his way into the national side.

Joining Everton de Vina del Mar after his release from Swindon, he was far from the Wiltshire countryside, but it was a move he had to make, having been called up by Chile for the first time a year earlier.

Five months and zero appearances later he returned to England a changed man.

The protests, sparked by a rise in rail fares, forced the cancellation of Chilean Primera Division and Vigouroux, now at Leyton Orient, watched as forests were torched and locals rioted.

“The government raised the price of a train ticket by, in our money, about 20p and it just went mad,” he told the PA news agency.

“They were setting supermarkets on fire and it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve come from Camden, the main thing I see is when someone leaves the cooker on and there’s a little fire in the kitchen’.

“There were people protesting, they were standing in Plaza Italia, our equivalent of Trafalgar Square in Santiago. They were there for days, police were shooting people with rubber bullets. It was really scary.

“I went to visit my granddad in Santiago. I was on the coach and the forest was just on fire. It was mad. Smoke everywhere, both sides of the road, it was like I was in an Armageddon film. Big trees on either side on fire, the imagery of it was striking.

They were setting supermarkets on fire and it was like, 'Wow, I've come from Camden, the main thing I see is when someone leaves the cooker on and there's a little fire in the kitchen'

Lawrence Vigouroux

“Then, when I got there, it was like a war zone. On top of that there are earthquakes almost every few days because of where it is in the world.

“They’re not that strong but you can feel it, especially coming from England. It was surreal but it is a brilliant country.

“The Constitution eventually changed and I did agree with the people, because the country is only as good as the people who live in it.”

Several issues caused the unrest, including fares for the Santiago Metro subway rising four per cent and a 10 pesos hike for buses, with 17 stations eventually burnt down.

For a country already in a cost-of-living crisis it was a tipping point and it gave the 29-year-old, who once paid a £50 fine with 5,000 pennies while on loan at Swindon from Liverpool, an outlook which has shaped his career since.

“As a human being, definitely,” says Vigouroux, who with partner Shemika has children India, Thiago and Carmelo. “I had a lot of problems when I was younger in terms of discipline – being late or going out when I shouldn’t.

“It helped me as a person because I love the game. It showed me how much I wanted to succeed if I ever got the opportunity to come back here and not mess anything up. I felt like I was on my last chance.

“I’ve got a lot of regrets, but I wouldn’t change anything because I would have had to learn anyway. The way I was wasn’t acceptable. I’ve learned the hard way.

“I’ve had to go miles away from my family to try and make a career out there because no-one here wanted me.”

His return from South America has been a success. Joining Orient in 2020, two player-of-the-season awards at Brisbane Road followed and the O’s are six points clear at the top of League Two ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hartlepool.

He has kept 20 clean sheets in 36 games – four more than any other goalkeeper in the division – and conceded just 24 times.

The irony he is in the form of his life under Richie Wellens – the manager who released him at Swindon – is not lost on Vigouroux, but he is just happy to be playing and being a father.

“The way I was made him release me, not as a player but as a person,” he says, having started his career at Brentford and Tottenham before moving to Anfield.

“Now I’m completely different. I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t the most professional when I was younger. I don’t think you could say that now. I really wanted to make it work when he arrived.

“It’s nice because I get to do the school run and that’s everything. Some people take it for granted. I didn’t get to do it or get to see my kids grow up every day and be there for them every step of the way (when he was in Chile).

“When I leave here, I switch off from football and I’m just a dad. Then I come back into the training ground to become a footballer.

“I just want to be there for my kids and help them with their homework. It helps me mentally so I don’t get consumed with football.”

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