West Brom's Three Degrees are finally to get a statue in their honor, it was announced on August 1st. The sculptor charged with this long-overdue task is Graham Ibbeson, who will announce details of his work imminently. Meanwhile...
July 15th of this month marked 23 years since the passing of one of the greatest English wingers ever. He may oft have been overlooked for England, but ask any West Brom fan about him, and he would be hailed as a "world beater." His name: Laurie Cunningham.
Cunningham's place in English football history can never put beyond doubt. He was the first black player to represent the national side at any level, that honor coming in the Under-21 game against Scotland on April 27th 1977 at Bramall Lane.
Having been pipped to the senior team by Viv Anderson
, he then became the first black player to pull on the Three Lions shirt in a competitive match in a Home International against Wales on May 23rd 1979. As if that was not enough, in the summer of 1979 he became the first British player to be transferred to Real Madrid.
Cunningham's achievements are yet the more remarkable given the abuse he suffered from crowds around the country due to his skin color. This was the 1970s - an incredibly tough environment for Cunningham and his "Three Degrees" colleagues - Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis - to make their footballing marks. The attitudes of the time are more than summed up by the commentary and manager's comments in the video clip attached to this text, with the players matter-of-factly being singled out for their appearance.
One hopes that in the future more internet footage will emerge of this West Bromwich Albion legend. The man who could play on both wings only graced the Hawthornes for two seasons, but in that time showed smooth footwork, graceful balance, lightning pace and outstanding agility to achieve cult status. It was little surprise that a team of Real Madrid's prestige came knocking on Ron Atkinson's door.
It is also testament to Cunningham's flexibility that he was able to ply his trade in so many countries on the continent, learning languages as he went. It was during his time in Spain that he met his Spanish wife, who gave birth to his baby son.
It was a tragedy indeed that the latter stages of his career were so blighted by injury. It was fitting indeed that his appearance for Wimbledon in the 1988 Cup Final gave him an FA Cup Winner's Medal with which he could effectively sign off from football. And it was doubly tragic indeed that on July 15th 1989, his life was so unfairly cut short in a car crash at the age of just 33.