For 16 months, the PFA could not locate details of the fund as costs mounted for Lawrence
Lawrence noticed the missing money and contacted the PFA to request their help in locating it
Lawrence adds: ‘After being so slow for 16 months, it took a call from the Daily Mail for them to spring into action and within 48 hours of a newspaper calling up and suggesting they would run a story, they managed to find the fund at Curtis Banks. That is not how it should work.’
Several years ago, Jamie Lawrence’s mobile phone pinged and the Northern Irish accent came as a surprise.
‘Brendan Rodgers,’ he smiled.
‘He watched a documentary about my life and got hold of me. He said, “I had to tell you how inspiring I found your story and how proud you should be for coming back from such a low place.”
He then invited me to Celtic to watch a game and brought me into his house and we had dinner. Brendan is a legend.’
Rodgers developed a soft spot for Lawrence, now 49 but once a red-haired Premier League winger with Leicester and Bradford. Lawrence, however, is not your usual 1990s footballer.
Ex-footballer Jamie Lawrence has opened up on his fight to be paid what the PFA owed him
David Ginola is brought down by Lawrence during a league match at White Hart Lane in 2000
He received two prison sentences before the age of 23 and after his playing career he plummeted into the pits of depression, financial hardship and alcoholism.
‘Depression set in,’ he begins. ‘I so missed the buzz of playing. I just thought, “How can I cope?” So I drank. I was in the pub, from 3pm until 11pm every day. Guinness after Guinness. I would go to the gym next morning — a functioning alcoholic. But things got harder. I had to sell everything I owned.
‘Footballers try to live the lifestyle after we’ve finished playing. I had to stay on a mate’s sofa when I split up with the mother of my kids. Relationships suffer. When you play football, you grow apart. You lead separate lifestyles.
‘I came back down to London and tried to live with her but there was a massive strain. I only knew football and crime. I nearly went back into what I used to do but on a bigger level. A friend sat me down and said, “You’ve come too far to do that”.’
Lawrence is, quite clearly, the kind of former player who urgently required proactive support from the Professional Footballers’ Association. He did receive some help when the PFA partially funded a personal training study course. Yet his financial situation worsened and his bank account was shut down in 2011. Before then, he had received a monthly £50 pension income from a policy recommended by the PFA when he retired.
During a player’s career, they pay into a pension scheme, which can be withdrawn upon retirement. Lawrence took out a couple of hefty lump sums, but, on the advice of a senior member of the PFA, he moved the remainder of his money into a private pension fund. Yet when his bank account closed, he stopped receiving the £50 monthly payments. With his life chaotic, it took a few years to realise it was no longer arriving.
He received a monthly £50 pension from a policy recommended by the PFA when he retired
Yet when Lawrence’s bank account closed, he stopped receiving the £50 monthly payments
In November 2017 Lawrence, by now more organised, contacted the PFA to request their help in locating his pension fund. Yet for almost 15 months replies were sluggish. PFA trustee Gareth Griffiths became a port of call but Lawrence repeatedly hit a brick wall.
The original Capita pension fund had been transferred to a series of different companies. Yet for 16 months, the PFA were unable to locate details of a fund they had recommended to Lawrence.
This from an organisation who paid their chief executive, Gordon Taylor, £2.2million in 2018 but only fund dementia research in former players to the tune of £100,000 a year.
Amid the search, Lawrence’s mother, Freida, passed away in Jamaica in September last year. Lawrence says: ‘I was advised to move it into a private fund. I felt I would by now be owed £7,000. I had WhatsApp conversations with Gareth Griffiths from the start of October but replies dried up and I had to repeatedly message and chase him through the month of January.
‘I wrote a letter telling them about my mum dying and how I needed the money to go to Jamaica and to help with burial costs. They were not forthcoming finding my money. It is disgraceful. I paid in all that time during my career. I was not requesting a grant, a pension is my money.
‘It was stressful to lose mum but this just made everything harder. If I was a big player, I know they would have moved heaven and earth to find the money. As I’m just little Jamie Lawrence, who played for Bradford, they are sitting in their big offices and don’t care.’
On January 24, Griffiths wrote to Lawrence to say that ‘without any more recent supporting paperwork it’s very hard to help’. It was then that he turned to a friend, who called up the PFA on his behalf asking questions, and then to Sportsmail in an attempt to force the issue.
The PFA see events differently. They insist the wheels were in motion long before and that it is only coincidence that a newspaper’s intervention correlated with the moment they found the money. One source explained that data protection laws made it difficult to access the fund as Lawrence was short of the relevant paperwork.
Lawrence has now been paid the expected £7,000 and locating the fund has also revealed a substantially greater sum was still in reserve. He is choosing to speak out now because ‘it worries me to think there may be other players in similar positions hitting the same roadblocks’.
Lawrence has spent his life fighting battles. His parents returned to Jamaica when he was 17 and Lawrence resorted to crime to survive.
‘The first time I went to prison, I hid it from my parents. The second time I got arrested, my mum had come over. “Where’s my son?” The only time I cried in prison is when she came to visit. “Why are you doing this to me, son?” My mum is my queen and that devastated me. I let her down. Prison is as bad as you want it to be. I was scared the second time. I was 21 and walked into a big man’s prison.
‘Some older boys bullied me. I wrote my name down for a phone call and they rubbed it out. I thought if I didn’t address it now, it would be going on for my whole sentence. We went into the table-tennis room. Someone kept watch at the door. I ended up knocking the guy out and breaking my hand. I didn’t get troubled again. I never feared anybody when I played.
‘A Roy Keane ain’t been where I’ve been. I experienced racism. I heard people say black people could not play in the winter — too cold. Or “You brothers” would be used a lot. At one club, we played blacks against whites in training.’
The Daily Mail’s intervention ensured Lawrence has now been paid the expected £7,000
He now goes into prisons as a mentor and works as a personal trainer for Ruben Loftus-Cheek
His second sentence — four years for armed robbery and violence — turned out to be a stroke of fortune.
‘My blessing was going to Camp Hill prison on the Isle of Wight. I played for the prison team against a semi-pro team. It was like Mean Machine, with all the prisoners on the touchline! I scored the winner and the semi-pro side went to the governor and asked if I could play for them. It had never been done before and has never been since.
‘Terry Butcher heard about me and signed me for Sunderland. They put me in a hotel — the first I had slept in except for Her Majesty’s. There was a Jacuzzi!’
He enjoyed top-flight football, staying up with Paul Jewell’s Bradford in 2000. In recent times, life has come together. He is once more with the mother of his children. He goes into prisons as a mentor, works as a personal trainer for clients including Ruben Loftus-Cheek and coaches young footballers in south London. He worries for his son as London’s knife crime epidemic worsens.
‘I want to help these kids. If nobody helped me, I’d be six feet under or in prison. Kids are killing each other. For what? Area codes. It is nonsense. What are they getting out of it? Loads of kids are worried about walking home. It destroys families.
‘You need to give these kids things to do. Youth clubs are shutting down and there are not enough positive role models. Kids see people with nice cars, girls, champagne. But those guys are at it and they are dangerous.
‘There’s some really good footballers like Michail Antonio, who go back and really help. I know what it’s like when you’re left feeling isolated and I don’t want others to feel that way.’