Many foreign players have come to play in Malta. Many were run-of-the-mill players, hardly better than the average Maltese footballer. Others, however, were in a class of their own; players of substance who left their mark on Maltese football.
One of the best overseas players who played in our league in recent years was George Lawrence.
Lawrence was initially brought to Malta by Sliema Wanderers. The Blues, however, failed to spot his true potential and he was allowed to slip through their fingers to the delight of Hibernians who were quick to snap up this exceptional player.
Lawrence was born in London and attended the Christopher Wren School where he was spotted by Southampton FC's London scout.
Joining the Saints as a trainee in August 1979, he made his debut in a League Cup match against Chelsea on October 6, 1981. He made his first start on October 17, in a league game against Notts County.
However, the Saints at that time had an abundance of strikers, including Mike Channon, Steve Moran, Kevin Keegan, Steve Williams and David Armstrong... his first-team chances were limited. So, in 1981-82, Lawrence went on loan to Oxford and made the move permanent at the end of the season.
After two years at Oxford he returned to Southampton. Once again, he was in competition with several strikers including Moran, Joe Jordan, Alan Curtis and Danny Wallace. Lawrence, however, settled down nicely with his old club and his second spell was more fruitful.
In 1986-87, he made 36 appearances for Southampton and finished the season as the club's second best scorer with eight goals. It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise when in July 1987 he was transfered to Millwall for £160,000.
In his first season at Millwall, Lawrence helped the Lions win the Division Two championship and then spent the 1988-89 season with them in the First Division.
He then spent three years with Bournemouth before playing in Finland with Mikkelin Palloilijat. In 1993, he made 14 appearances for Portsmouth and then decided to continue his career in Malta.
All those present at the Hibs Ground when Sliema played Floriana on August 9, 1993 in the opening match of the Lowenbrau Cup, marvelled at the skills of an English striker who was making his debut for the Blues.
At 31, Lawrence already had a solid career behind him in the English league. Yet, for some strange reason, Sliema didn't offer him a contract.
Hibs official Jesmond Abela watched Lawrence play against Floriana that day. A shrewd judge of football, he cast a covetous eye on the striker and, after consulting club president Tony Bezzina and manager Brian Talbot, he started negotiations to secure the signature of Lawrence.
This proved to be one of the best signings in the history of the club. A truly great player and a true professional, Lawrence added power and flair to an already formidable team.
Abela has been responsible for luring to the Paola club many fine players but he would be the first to admit that Lawrence was his biggest coup.
I would not be exaggerating if I say that Lawrence was the main reason why Hibs won the championship in 1993-94 and 1994-95. When he was injured midway through the 1995-96 campaign, Hibs, who at that stage were on course for a third consec-utive championship, lost poise and surrendered their crown to Valletta.
Throughout his career Lawrence was affectionately known as Chicken George, after the character in the TV series Roots which was aired on British television at the time he started his career.
Lawrence has never been forgotten in Paola and when the club signs a new foreign player, he is always compared with the burly Englishman.
Since retiring from professional football, Lawrence continued to play in veterans' matches as well as earning a living as a football agent.
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