Laurie Cunningham

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Laurie Cunningham (March 8, 1956 - July 15, 1989) was an England international association footballer, the first black player to represent England in a competitive football match.

Born St. Mary's Archway, London, Cunningham joined Leyton Orient after a start in schoolboy football. He joined West Bromwich Albion in 1977, where, under maverick manager Ron Atkinson, he teamed up with fellow black players Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis. Never before had an English team simultaneously fielded three black players. The Three Degrees, as they became known, challenged the established racism of English football and marked a watershed that allowed a generation of footballers to enter the game who would previously have been excluded by their ethnic background.

West Bromwich Albion became one of the most attractive and exciting English sides in the late 1970s and Cunningham soon attracted attention. He became the first black player to wear an England shirt in the under-21 friendly against Scotland at Bramall Lane on April 27, 1977, scoring on his debut. He subsequently earned six full England caps.

In 1979, he moved to Real Madrid for GBP 995,000 though he never recaptured his early brilliance. His later career saw him increasingly distracted by off-field interests and, after leaving Real Madrid in 1983, he was loaned to Manchester United and Leicester City as well as having permanent spells with Sporting Gijon of Spain and Charleroi of Belgium. He finally returned to the English game on a permanent basis with Wimbledon at the start of the 1987-88 season. Although he had limited first team chances, he made a substitute appearance in the famous 1988 F.A Cup final win over Liverpool. Soon after that he was transferred to Rayo Vallecano in Spain.

On the morning of 15th July 1989, Laurie Cunningham was killed in a crash in Madrid at the age of 33.

Bibliography

  • Bowler, D & Bains, J (2000) Samba in the Smethwick End: Regis, Cunningham, Batson and the Football Revolution ISBN 1840181885
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