TOM LAWRENCE knows his late mum Deborah will look down proudly as he leads Derby out as captain on Saturday.
The attacking midfielder has been handed the armband for the season by boss Wayne Rooney.
It raised eyebrows in some sections of the Rams’ support, but it could well be an inspired piece of management from the England and Manchester United legend.
Lawrence, 27, has just come through the most challenging time of his life.
First he had the trauma of his mum being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and dying at the age of just 56.
Then, not long afterwards, he and former team-mate Mason Bennett were involved in a car crash after drink-driving and left the scene.
Both pleaded guilty and got driving bans and community service.
But two years on, and having matured on and off the field, Lawrence has been given the opportunity by Rooney to not just lead the team but to be someone young players can learn from.
Lawrence told SunSport: “The ups and downs on and off the pitch, I’ve been through them all.
“Now I’m at an age where I’m mentally in the right place, ready to lead this group of lads and my door is always open for anyone who wants to speak to me.
“There are plenty of people close to me, around Derby County, who helped me massively.
“I’m forever grateful. I know how I can help other people and it’s a new chapter for me.”
When Lawrence was going through his lowest time coming to terms with his mum’s diagnosis, treatment and then her death, he continued playing.
He played in the Championship play-off final defeat by Aston Villa just after she died in 2019.
Lawrence said: “When I went through it, I played the games but didn’t think about things.
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“On the pitch was the best time in many ways because you’re not thinking about it.
“The preparations were not ideal obviously, because I was going through stuff. But on the pitch you don’t think about anything else.”
But what he did learn during that period was the importance of speaking to someone.
His former Rams boss Frank Lampard in particular was a huge help — as he had gone through the same agony when he lost his own mum, Pat.
Lawrence said: “When you are young and growing up in football, you’re under a lot of pressure.
The ups and downs on and off the pitch, I’ve been through them all… now I’m at an age where I’m mentally in the right place, ready to lead this group of lads and my door is always open for anyone who wants to speak to me.
“It can be stressful in many difficult ways. There are always people around who you can speak to about it.
“I don’t think enough players speak about it. The best message I can give someone is to speak to someone.”
When he runs out at Pride Park against Huddersfield as captain on Saturday, Lawrence will be thinking of his mum.
He said: “She would have been the proudest mum and I’m sure she will be looking down.”
Derby have been under transfer restrictions this summer after breaking EFL Financial Fair Play rules and were trying to sign eight new players this week on free transfers, with wages restricted by the league.
The Rams only survived relegation after a dramatic 3-3 last-day draw with drop rivals Sheffield Wednesday last term and would have gone down had it not been for Cardiff scoring a late leveller against Rotherham.
Lawrence said: “I don’t want to be involved in one of those games again to be honest — but we haven’t got the biggest squad and things aren’t happy at the moment.
“However, we’ve worked hard and are ready for the first game and because of the squad size it’s important everyone stands up to be counted.”
Lawrence has also been nominated by Rooney as the club’s penalty-taker.
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He said: “The manager has been so helpful and supportive to me. He is always good at giving me advice as a goalscorer — and after what he has achieved in the game, you take anything he says on board.
“I am happy to be taking penalties.
“I want to score more goals. I think I’ve only scored double figures twice in the last six years so I need to do that on a more consistent basis.”