Former Mansfield Town star Liam Lawrence recalls his play-off final penalty nightmare and a major row over his future with boss Keith Curle on a lively episode of comedy football podcast Undr The Cosh.
The midfield ace, who went on to play in the Premier League and represent the Republic of Ireland, came through the ranks at Stags to emerge as one of the brightest talents they had ever produced.
But his final act for the club in 2004 was to miss one of the crucial penalty kicks against Huddersfield Town at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as Stags lost the play-off final and Lawrence subsequently left.
He reveals on the podcast how defender Bobby Hassell told his maverick team mate not to try anything fancy with the kick – but Lawrence did not listen, even though he was about to equal Francis Lee’s 13 league penalty successes record.
“I had scored about 22 goals that season - and 12 of them penalties funny enough,” said Lawrence.
“We got to the final against Huddersfield and it was all level. So we went into a penalty shoot-out and I said to Bobby Hassell ‘I’m going to dink it’ and he went ‘no you’re not’, proper serious. He was a bit feisty – a proper angry little fellow.
“I said ‘I am – I am going to dink it down the middle as he’s going to dive. There is no way he’s going to stand there in a play-off final’.
“I put the ball down, but my run-up was too long and I got too much juice in my run-up, put too much power on the dink and I’ve seen it going higher and higher, then it’s clipped the bar and gone over. By the way – he did dive!
“Someone had missed before me and we ended up losing which was disappointing.
“I just needed one more that season to equal Frannie Lee’s record as well.”
Despite his spectacular failure in such a big moment, boss Curle was forgiving of his star man.
“He was sound,” said Lawrence. “Obviously I had done so well that year to help them get there before I missed the penalty.
“It was a bit cheeky, chipping it. I should have just tried to bury it.
“But he just said, ‘look you’ve tried something, it’s not come off, don’t worry about it. You were not the only one who missed’.
“I think it cost us about £12,500 apiece for not going up if you’d played every game. It was a lot of money then and still is now.”
Despite his miss, Lawrence was destined for bigger things as he moved on to Sunderland.
“I knew I’d had a good season and there was interest - Leeds, Sunderland, Cardiff, Crewe, who were in the Championship at the time,” he said.
Lawrence recalls two bust-ups with Curle, who he felt overall managed him well and made sure he got the move he deserved in the end.
“He was good with me at Mansfield,” said Lawrence. “I was playing quite well and doing well under him. But there was a couple of times we almost fell out.
“I was a Jack the lad and playing well, thinking I was it, and once I’d gone out on the Thursday before the game on the Saturday – and into the middle of Mansfield as well. Not just anywhere – I’d gone into Mansfield like an idiot.
“In the nightclub someone sees me and rings the club. I came in on the Friday and the gaffer has pulled me and said ‘tell me you were not out last night and it’s not true’.
“I said ‘I was out and I obviously got in the wrong crowd’. He said ‘I can’t play you tomorrow as much as I want to and need you’.
“I said ‘it will be all right, just play me and we’ll deal with whatever the consequences are after’.
“But, to be fair, he stuck to his guns - I didn’t play and we lost. I wasn’t even in the squad. It was common knowledge by the Saturday morning that I’d been out around Mansfield.
“He was definitely right to do it. I got fined afterwards.”
Curle then had to put the brakes on his brash, rising young star moving on too soon as he made him hold out until the summer when Sunderland pounced.
“Then – I think it was around January time - I was flying and Rotherham came in. I think they were in the Championship at the time,” recalled Lawrence.
“The money was a lot better straight away my agent told me.
“I was young and all you think about is playing in a better league with better money. So I went into Curley’s office and said ‘I want to go’.
“I said ‘it’s better money in a bigger league and now’s the time for me to move on’.
“He’s gone ‘you’re not going’. I said ‘I am telling you now I want to go and if you don’t let me I won’t play for you, I won’t train and I will turn all the lads against you’.
“He said ‘listen to me – if you stay until the end of the season and keep banging the goals in you will get a much better move than Rotherham’. And he was completely right.
“I was fuming, but I stayed and it was the best decision I could have made in the end. Fair play to Curley. And I did end up training as normal!”