Young Gun – Lawrence Thomas


Lawrence Thomas travelled the world over to get his chance in a big game like last Saturday’s epic 2-2 draw between Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar.

Lawrence Thomas travelled the world over to get his chance in a big game like last Saturday’s epic 2-2 draw between Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar.

Every young player hopes for the moment when they go from being a nobody to a somebody, and for Thomas, this was that moment.

Effectively a third-choice keeper for Victory, the 19-year-old had been warming the bench behind Ante Covic, who had been signed in a hurry because Tando Velaphi suffered a leg injury on the eve of the season.

It would require Covic to encounter a misfortune of his own for Thomas to get his chance.

As it turns out, Covic’s ill-timed challenge on Besart Berisha was that moment of misfortune. Before he knew it, Thomas was headed into the heat of battle, with his first action to try and save a penalty from Henrique.

“As soon as I saw the foul, I thought to myself I’m on pretty much straight away,” he said.

“I didn’t really think about it too much at all. I just got up and got my gloves on and did a few volleys and I was fairly clear in my mind.”

He didn’t save the penalty at either the first try or the second after referee Ben Williams ordered a re-take. But he did play a part in one of the most memorable and brave performances in the club’s short but proud history.

He pulled off a string of important late saves as Victory held on for a 2-2 draw against the defending champions.

“Seeing how Brisbane have gone 33 games undefeated and to come out with only nine men and hold on like that was a great effort from the lads,” he said.

Thomas’ name is now etched in Victory’s history, much in the same way that a then 20-year-old Mitch Langerak did when he came on because of a send-off in September 2008 against the Central Coast Mariners and earned the plaudits of everybody in a 2-2 result.

There are not too many 19-year olds who have already spent over a year pursuing their chosen profession overseas, but Thomas, like most goalkeepers, is not your typical teenager.

After a false start when at 16 he moved to England to take up an opportunity at Portsmouth, only to find he didn’t yet have the maturity to cope with life away from home, he tried again at age 17, having spent a year at the AIS.

“I’d been overseas for about a year and a half. I was at Coventry for six months and that didn’t work out, I couldn’t get a clearance for there. Then I went to Sheffield United for half a season,” he said.

“I loved the set-up over there (in England), how big the game is over there and I thought it was the best place in the world to go.”

With that dream fading, he was called up for the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia this year but an injury forced him back home and gave him a chance to evaluate his future.

While his family are based in Western Sydney, Thomas found himself a target for the two Melbourne clubs and from there he knew his future lay in the Hyundai A-League.

“I had Heart and Victory both interested in me. I was talking to Steve (Mautone – goalkeeping coach) a lot and chose to come here and it’s been a good decision. I’m really happy here,” he said.

“Living down here in Melbourne is the same as living at home for me. England is a lot further away than being here and I feel at home and relaxed.”

Victory have a good record of producing quality keepers under Mautone, with Michael Theoklitos and Eugene Galekovic both having won the Hyundai A-League Goalkeeper of the Year award multiple times, having come through the Victory system.

More recently, Langerak’s progression from promising youngster to Socceroo recognition and Borussia Dortmund back-up has highlighted the strong pathway the club has built.

That too played a major role in Thomas’ decision to join the club.

“That of course played a big part and when I came in and saw the facilities here and it’s a great set-up. It’s great working with Steve. I’m feeling great to be here,” he said.

But the role of the gloveman is the most fickle position on the pitch and while one minute you can be a hero, the next you find yourself a public pariah.

Even worse, you can find yourself in-form but out of the team as quickly as you were elevated.

Thomas is fully aware that once Covic has served his one-match ban and Velaphi gets over his leg fracture, he could be well and truly on the outer.

“I was worried about that at the start of the season,” he said.

“When Tando got the injury I thought I might have got a game and I was a bit disappointed when Ante came in.”

“But now I’ve got my shot and I just need to do the best I can.”

He also knows that as a young goalkeeper, regardless of his previous experience, there is a lot he can learn from a well-travelled stopper like Covic.

“He’s been brilliant at training. You see what he is like in the games and training you take tips from him,” he said. “I go with Steve and we look at how Ante positions himself and how he’s talking. You pick up a lot from that.”