Academy player at Aston Villa, big-hitting batsman with Warwickshire and now an England rugby star: Centre Ollie Lawrence was delighted to add a new page to dad’s scrapbook when he made Six Nations debut in Italy
- Lawrence made his England debut in the Six Nations victory over Italy
- Dad Mike has tracked his son’s career through photographs and mementos
- He excelled at football as a boy and played for Villa and Birmingham youth teams
- Between the ages of 10 and Lawrence played for Warwickshire with Tom Banton
Mike Lawrence has his scrapbook moment sorted for 2020.
For 21 years, the proud father has painstakingly tracked his son’s career through cuttings, photographs and mementos and two Saturdays ago came a memory to top the lot.
Sixty-eight minutes into England’s Six Nations victory over Italy, on came cap number 1416 —Ollie Lawrence, Mike’s only son. In pockets across the West Midlands, from Burton to Birmingham, the Lawrences celebrated. Mike and his wife Sue were locked down in Bearwood welling up.
Centre Ollie Lawrence made his England debut in the Six Nations victory over Italy
‘It was just mum and dad together with a Guinness, rosé wine and plenty of tissues!’ Mike tells Sportsmail.
‘Our next-door neighbour is rugby mad so she was screaming and we had hundreds of phone calls and text messages through the game with people saying “he’s on!”’
After Ollie sang some Adele in the traditional post-match ceremony for new caps, he video-called his parents from Rome.
‘We’ve never seen him smiling so much!’ recalls his father.
Dad Mike has tracked his son’s career through cuttings, photographs and mementos
‘He’s been like a Cheshire Cat for days!’
Ollie’s grandmothers, Margaret and Pat, are ‘proud as punch’ too and now have pictures of their grandson with the Six Nations trophy.
‘I’ve got an album of all his seasons, and have a scrapbook of anything in the paper and additional photographs that go with it,’ Mike explains.
‘I do that every year, so when our grandchildren arrive – hopefully not too soon! – we can show them.
‘It’s cost us a fortunate in papers! Oliver doesn’t have any brothers or sisters so we’re able to spoil him as our only child.’
The proud 21-year-old, wearing his first England cap, holds the Six Nations trophy
Mike and Sue Lawrence, who met working for the Yellow Pages, are absolutely devoted to their son.
Ferrying round a multi-talented sporting child takes some doing.
‘I did all the travelling, taking him to sport,’ says Mike.
‘But mum always made sure he had a warm bath, tea on the table with the washing machine ready to clean his dirty kit.’
There have been several shirts to scrub over the years.
Born in Halesowen Mike was a winger with Moseley in the 1970s and 80s. He played against the likes of Clive Woodward, Les Cusworth, Dusty Hare and Paul Dodge and first took Ollie down to play tag at his club; but it was football that first took Ollie’s attention.
Lawrence on the charge while playing for Bromsgrove 1st XV versus Clifton aged 17
Aged seven, playing at Hamstead Diamonds, Aston Villa came calling. Ollie, whose dad supports Wolves, actually joined Birmingham City’s setup at eight before moving to Villa at nine, but never quite enjoyed football’s restrictions.
Mike tried to teach him golf, but Ollie was initially only interested in the driver, so that went.
It was cricket where his sporting passions were ignited at Old Swinford Hospital School.
Between the ages of 10 and 15 he played for Warwickshire with Tom Banton, now England’s one-day opener. As ever, Mike was chauffeur.
‘One Thursday it was Yorkshire away, then Monday was Lancashire away!’ he recalls.
Lawrence, here playing for Old Swinford Hospital School aged 15, was a school star
‘One year I took all of my annual holiday to take him to cricket games.
‘He started at Harborne Cricket Club, and could hit the ball miles!
‘He went to the England talent centre at Loughborough for a couple of years, and at 15 would go in at three and could bowl nearly 70mph.
‘I remember him playing Middlesex and scoring 118 not out, then getting another hundred at Yorkshire.
‘But once he’d done his bits he got a bit bored – 55 overs in the field is a long time when you’ve done your six or ten overs.’
When leaving OSH Ollie was a school star, latterly taking rugby more seriously having made England Under-16s.
Lawrence excelled at football as a boy and played for Aston Villa and Birmingham youth teams
Sheer size helped, but moving to Bromsgrove School on a sporting scholarship for Sixth Form, Ollie needed more.
‘He was a bit of a loose-cannon, shall we say?’ says Tony Windo, the rugby coach there.
‘But an exceptional talent. He was very self-confident.
‘For so much of his younger life he could control games himself – we tried to make sure he was part of the team.’
The school had produced England internationals Ben Foden, Matt Mullan and Andy Goode but rated Ollie the best they had seen.
‘We once played RGS High Wycombe in the schools Champions Trophy and beat them 37-22 – Ollie scored 30 points,’ remembers Windo.
‘For a young lad to do that was sensational.’
They gave him the captaincy, to foster some more collective thinking, and nurtured his clearly exceptional talent.
‘He’s a big personality and a big player,’ says Windo.
‘Because he so powerful it was “give it to Ollie and he’ll score”. There was going to come a time where he wasn’t able to do that so we had to work on his all-round skill.
‘He can now run hard lines, big decoy lines, and can offload out of contact.’
With the England Under-17s, 18s and 20s he kept chalking off achievements. By 18 he made his Worcester debut and was soon expressing himself on and off the pitch through stand-out performances and haircuts.
‘Oliver’s godmother did an album for his 21st birthday of all the different hairstyles he’s had over the years,’ Mike laughs through his Brummie accent.
‘One of his friends’ mum is a hairdresser, so he’s had all sorts… dyed yellow, purple, faded in, the bird’s nest, high-top thing!
‘Now he says “why did you let me have that?” but he loved it at the time!’
‘He’s confident,’ Alan Solomons, his Worcester coach, says of Ollie whose power has drawn comparisons with Manu Tuilagi.
‘His physique gives him that. He’s 101kg (15st 12lbs), so a big man, with a strong body right throughout. He’s a big powerful fellow and a dynamic athlete.
‘We played Stade Francais in 2018-19 and Ollie was incredible. Their coach Heyneker Meyer said to me “who the hell is that guy?”
‘I’m not surprised he has come through.’
When returning home to his parents, as ever Ollie presented his dad with his shirt to frame, and let him try on the cap. You suspect it will not be the first joyous moment to stick in Mike’s scrapbook.
‘I said to Oliver “son, I can finally admit you’re a lot better player than I was!”’ smiles dad.
‘Seeing Saturday made it all worthwhile. It’s something we’ll never forget, but hopefully one day we can see him with 80,000 people screaming and shouting – that would be nice.’