Born in France, an Internationalist with Togo, yet, with the most Scottish name in the Livingston dressing room, it is perhaps fitting that Steve Lawson seems to have found a home in West Lothian as he gears up for his third season as a Lion, which is now only eight days away.
Well maybe not for Steve, who is nursing an injury. Something he neglected to mention as we arranged our shoot. You can imagine our surprise when he rocked up with a suitcase of ‘fits in one hand and a crutch in the other. A modern day Long John Silver. Yet, after talking the talk in our interview, Steve was more than ready to walk the walk; thankfully more cat than plank.
We caught up for a conversation in Edinburgh’s latest style and substance spot: It Started In The North on Easter Road. We sat down on the comfiest couch known to man for an extensive and varied conversation. Here’s what was said.
Let’s start with your earliest memories of football growing up, how did you get in to the sport? Ok, so I started out at 5 years old but, in France, you are supposed to start at 6. My mum told me that I was so impatient that I had to start at 5! I then played for the same club for around six or seven years. But then, because I wanted a better team, I moved twice.
You were too good? Uh-huh! So I went to the West Coast and that is when I started playing professionally. So it worked!
You can play in midfield and at right-back. Was there a player with similar versatility that inspired you in your adolescent years? I can play all the positions! (Laughs) But not really. As a midfielder, I like to watch Iniesta. When I play as a right-back, I like to watch Dani Alves. I love those guys. They are my inspirations.
Tell us about how you got spotted by Vannes OC? It’s a long story! So I was playing for my team in Paris when Didier Drogba’s uncle saw me playing and he liked what he saw. He told me after the game that he wanted to help me get to professional football!
Was that as a right-back or as a midfielder? I was right-back. So he took me to Vannes on trial. But, when I got there, they said to me: “You are not a right-back, you are a midfielder” - so that’s where that started!
The club was only founded in 1998. What were the dynamics like at the club? I think it’s the same as Livingston, as Livingston were only formed around the same time as Vannes, albeit following on from Meadowbank. But, at Vannes, we had very good staff, very professional.
Do you think you benefited coming through in the French lower leagues as opposed to being a youth player at the likes of Lyon, PSG, Marseille etc? I would say yes. But, more so because, at a smaller club, you have to fight harder to showcase your talent and be spotted to further your career. At those big clubs you mentioned, the players there are already in good teams. You need to work so hard to reach their level whilst in the second, third or fourth tier. So it’s very tough. But, because of that, I have a fighting mentality. I don’t like to come to a club and have everything easy or have it given to me, I want to fight for it.
You then moved on to Switzerland with Le Mont and then Neuchâtel Xamax before you were spotted by Livingston in the summer of 2018. How did your move to West Lothian come about? So David Martindale and Kenny Miller saw a video of me playing and, from that, they got in contact with my agent. They asked if I could come over for a trial. I said: Why not?! But I am not going to lie! When they asked me to come over, I hadn’t heard of Livingston! (Laughs) I knew of Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibs, Hearts… so I asked my friend from Switzerland who played with Hearts to give me some information.
Who was your contact? Ibrahim Tall. So I asked him about the league. He told me that it is very physical, the intensity is high and, for me, it would be a good league to play in. So I said “OK!”. Just like that. (Laughs)
You mentioned there that Kenny Miller spotted you alongside David Martindale, but, by the time you signed for the club, there was no manager in place. Was that a strange situation? (Laughing) No, not really. As I never really had the time to get to know him. But he is a really good man. But, after he left, the way we played changed.
I’m glad you mentioned that as I wanted to ask you about the playing style at the club. The team often get branded as long ball merchants by pundits but, despite that, you can also get the ball down and play. Does that association annoy the players? Sometimes it does. I like to play football. I like to have the ball at my feet. So do the other guys. We had Steven Lawless last season; he’s a small guy - he’s not going to head the ball! But he is very, very good technically. But we also have Lyndon Dykes, who is very good at holding the ball up and we can play off him. Craig Sibbald is another one who is small; he’s a very good player. So we know that we can go long if we need to but we also know that we can play - we can mix it up.
Your arrival at the club coincided with Livingston’s return to the Scottish top-flight, how did you find the quality in comparison to what you had been used to previously? I think it’s more the intensity that is different; it is so high! All the players who come on trial from France and Switzerland say that it is unbelievable. Because, in those countries, you have the time to put your foot on the ball, look up, find a pass. In Scotland it is not like that.
You’re now going in to your third year with Livingston, which is the longest time you have spent at a club, why do you think that is? Well, at some of my previous clubs, I actually wanted to stay longer! But certain situations that arose meant that couldn’t happen. Such as my first club in Switzerland, they no longer exist!
Oh right, Ok… Yeah! (Laughs) Then, at my second club, I had some trouble with the chairman over my contract. It’s difficult to explain! But, after that dispute went back and forth three times, I had to leave. I am not the kind of guy who is going to beg the chairman to offer me a contract with the right terms. Now at Livingston, everything has been good! So, why leave?! (Laughs)
On a personal level, has it been good for you to have some stability having moved around on annual basis for a few years prior to Livingston? (Laughing) Yes! I am so tired of leaving! It is not nice having to leave the friends that you make at your club and then start again. That is why I am good at Livingston.
Who are the guys from the club that you hang out with off the pitch? So there’s Hakeem Odoffin, Dolly Menga, all the French players! As well, s