John Lawless is a Liverpool supporter. In fact, he’s more than a Liverpool supporter. He started his professional career at Liverpool as a trainee, although he didn’t make the grade at Anfield. After that, he went on to play in an FA Trophy final for Burscough, had a stint as a full-time player in the Welsh Premier League for TNS, before playing for Colwyn Bay. Last summer, he signed for Unibond League Premier Division side Marine. This was something of a homecoming for Lawless, who comes from Marine’s home city of Liverpool. Marine have had a decent season so far and currently sit in fourth place in the Unibond League Premier Division – a play-off spot – with a place in next year’s Conference North looming large on the horizon. Now, however, this promising midfield player has had his contract terminated by Marine on account of his own childish behaviour, both on and off the pitch.
Marine play in the suburban outpost of Crosby, on the northernmost edge of Liverpool. I was a regular visitor to Rossett Park whilst living as a student there in the early 1990s. It’s a small, friendly club who, in the early 1990s, briefly came close to achieving greatness. They reached the FA Trophy Final in 1992, made the Third Round FA Cup a year later and won the Unibond League championship in 1994 and 1995, both times being thwarted from promotion because of the cramped natured of their home stadium. Throughout this period, they were managed by Roly Howard, a stalwart of the non-league scene in the north-west of England. Howard managed Marine for a jaw-dropping 1,975 matches from 1972 until his retirement in 2005, a record that has seen him take a place in the Guinness Book of Records. That he should have stayed there for such a long time gives you an idea of what Marine FC is like. As a small club perpetually fighting an uphill battle against their Premier League neighbours Liverpool and Everton, it is a “club” in truest sense of the word. A club in which, one suspects, the warmth of the clubhouse and the quality of the beer is just as important as what happened on the pitch. A genuine family club.
John may have felt that returning to play football in Liverpool for Marine was a pretty good deal. He probably curled up in bed every night, under a red duvet with a big liver bird on it, and dreamt of the day that they would change their name to “Liverpool Marine”, so that he could tell girls that he played for “Liverpool”. The problem with John, however, is that he has a funny way of demonstrating his love for Liverpool FC. Now, the tattoo is one thing. Everyone makes mistakes in their youth. If you look very closely at it, you can just about make out his own name written above it. Perhaps it’s in case he forgets. But John didn’t make just the one mistake. John joined a Facebook group called “Munich 58 Was The Best Thing Ever”. Now, we all know that young people do stupid things, and this was obviously a stupid thing to do. Laughing at the deaths of twenty-three people is pretty vile, whatever way you look at it. But we live in a democracy. He’s entitled to his opinion, even if it is a morally repugnant one.
It’s quite likely that John was very excited about having the chance to stick one over on those “Munich bastards” when Marine travelled to Bury to play FC United of Manchester last month. Never mind that FCUM are not Manchester United. In John’s mind, this was a match against a team in red shirts, white shorts and black socks whose supporters, for the most part, cheered when Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in Barcelona in 1999 and Chelsea in Moscow last May. John, however, couldn’t keep his behaviour in check. During the first half of the match at Gigg Lane he went over to take a corner in front of FCUM’s supporters and made a brief gesture, waving his arms in the style of an aeroplane – a charming act beloved of those who think that the deaths of twenty-three people are hilarious, if those people are something to do with Manchester United. His actions did not go unnoticed. Stewards had to act quickly to stop some members of the crowd from getting to him and, at half-time, a visit was paid by the police to the Marine dressing room to advise Lawless and another player that had been making the same gesture, Shaun Tuck, that they would be arrested if they did it again. FCUM eventually won the match 3-2.
It took three weeks, but Marine this week terminated Lawless’ employment at their club, and rightly so. Playing in front of a crowd of over 2,000 people, his behaviour was about as inflammatory as I can remember seeing on a football pitch. It also dragged the good name of Marine FC through the mud – a club that, based on my own experience, deserves better than this sort of behaviour from its players. Furthermore, such behaviour sullies us all in a small way. This short piece on Deadspin (which, let’s face it, isn’t going to be winning any Pulitzer Prize nominations in the near future with such comments as “Lawless got a “police warning,” whatever that means”) demonstrated that it only takes one tiny incident thousands of miles away for people that wish to play up the reputation of all English supporters as lobotomised thugs (you’re only ten years out, chaps, do keep up) something to play with. There is also the small matter that this whole culture of poison that hangs over the relationship between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester does none of its protagonists any favours.
Don’t feel too sorry for John. He’s a talented enough player to be able to get himself a new contract, and football clubs are usually desperate enough to want new players regardless of any moral considerations. There’s a chance – a small chance, based on what we already know about him – that he might even have learnt something from this whole, sorry experience. We’ll probably never know. You can see highlights of the match between FC United of Manchester & Marine played on the 20th of December here: