Laurie Cunningham

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Laurie Cunningham
Laurie Cunningham statue.png
Statue of Cunningham near Brisbane Road
Personal information
Full name Laurence Paul Cunningham
Date of birth (1956-03-08)8 March 1956
Place of birth Archway, London, England
Date of death 15 July 1989(1989-07-15) (aged 33)
Place of death Madrid, Spain
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Playing position Left winger
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1974–1977 Leyton Orient 75 (15)
1977–1979 West Bromwich Albion 86 (21)
1979–1984 Real Madrid 44 (13)
1983Manchester United (loan) 5 (1)
1983–1984Sporting Gijón (loan) 30 (3)
1984–1985 Marseille 30 (8)
1985–1986 Leicester City 15 (0)
1986–1987 Rayo Vallecano 37 (3)
1987 Charleroi 1 (0)
1988 Wimbledon 6 (2)
1988–1989 Rayo Vallecano 19 (1)
Total 348 (67)
National team
1977–1978 England U21 6 (2)
1978 England B 1 (0)
1979–1980 England 6 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Laurence Paul Cunningham (8 March 1956 – 15 July 1989) was an England international footballer. Cunningham was the first Englishman to play football for Real Madrid.

Cunningham was reported to be the first black player to represent England at any level (having played at under 21 level). However, in May 2013, The Football Association amended their records, so that now Benjamin Odeje holds this record, having represented England seven years earlier at schoolboy level.[1]


Born in Archway, London, he was the son of a former Jamaican race-horse jockey.[2] Cunningham started in schoolboy football and was turned down by Arsenal before joining Leyton Orient in 1974.[3] He joined West Bromwich Albion in 1977, where, under manager Johnny Giles, he teamed up with another black player, Cyrille Regis, and the following year (under Ron Atkinson) with Brendon Batson. This was the second time an English top-flight team simultaneously fielded three black players (the first being Clyde Best, Clive Charles and Ade Coker for West Ham United against Tottenham Hotspur in April 1972) and Atkinson collectively referred to Cunningham, Batson and Regis as "The Three Degrees" after the U.S. soul singing trio.[3]

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 second black player to wear an England shirt at any level[4] in the England under-21s' friendly against Scotland at Bramall Lane on 27 April 1977, scoring on his debut.

Whilst a West Bromwich Albion player he played in a benefit match for Len Cantello, that saw a team of white players play against a team of black players.[5]

He subsequently earned a full England cap, making his debut against Wales in a Home International in 1979. He was to win a total of six caps for England.[6]

In the summer of 1979, he made a historic move as the first British player to transfer to Real Madrid, who paid West Bromwich Albion a fee of £950,000.[3] He scored twice on his debut and helped Real win the league and cup double.[7] Despite this club success, Cunningham was overlooked by England manager Ron Greenwood for a place in the England squad for Euro 1980.[6]

Shrugging off this disappointment and back at Real Madrid, Cunningham began the 1980–81 season well, and was again called up for England (after bitter negotiations with Real Madrid) for the 1982 World Cup Qualifier against Norway, only to be an unused sub as England won 4–0. In the next qualifier against Romania, he came off the bench but was unable to help England avoid a 2–1 defeat. This was to be his last England cap. Back with Real Madrid, his early season form was good again scoring goals in the early rounds of the European Cup, but then he succumbed to injury, and required an operation on a broken toe.

Cunningham recovered just in time for the 1981 European Cup Final against Liverpool in Paris, as Real Madrid lost 1–0, and though he was clearly not match fit, played the whole match (with some exciting bursts of play). During pre season training for the 1981–82 season, Cunningham's injury jinx continued, as a thigh injury kept him out of the majority of the season (only three goalless appearances in the league), his only real noteworthy contribution was in the UEFA Cup quarter final tie against 1. FC Kaiserslautern.

In the first leg, Cunningham showed that he was not over the hill, with a goal and great performance in Real Madrid's 3–1 win. In the second leg, however, he was sent off shortly before half time for retaliation, as Kaiserslautern won 5–0 to inflict Real Madrid's worst ever result in European competition. Prior to this tie, a finally fit Cunningham had been summoned up for England duty again, but this would be the last time he made an England squad. Cunningham won a second Spanish Cup medal as he played in the final when Real Madrid beat Gijón 2–1, but it was a depressing campaign for him. For the next season, with Real Madrid signing Johnny Metgod to join Uli Stielike as the two permitted foreigners, Cunningham spent most of the 1982–83 season on the sidelines, until he reunited with Ron Atkinson at Manchester United on loan in April 1983. He left Real after the 1982–83 season,[3] joining Sporting Gijón and subsequently Marseille.[6]

Cunningham only remained in France for one season in 1984–85, before heading back to England to join Leicester City, although he played only half a season due to further injury. At the end of the 1985–86 season, Cunningham went back to Spain to play for Rayo Vallecano in the second tier. He moved to Charleroi in Belgium for the 1987–88 campaign, but was yet again struck down by injury, and in the new year was back in England on a short term deal with Wimbledon, where he managed to help the Dons beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final.

After sharing in that glory, Cunningham again headed back to Spain and Rayo Vallecano for the 1988–89 season, enjoying an Indian summer and the season was topped off by scoring the goal that secured their promotion to the Primera Liga.[3]

Cunningham was killed in a car crash in Madrid on the morning of 15 July 1989, at the age of 33.[8] He was survived by his Spanish wife and their son.

Blue plaque outside Brisbane Road


In November 2004, he was named as one of West Bromwich Albion's 16 greatest players, in a poll organised as part of the club's 125th anniversary celebrations. The club announced that Cunningham would feature in a mural of the former players to be displayed at The Hawthorns.[9]

In October 2013, the Nubian Jak Community Trust unveiled a blue plaque outside Brisbane Road.[10] In September 2015, English Heritage erected a blue plaque on Cunningham's childhood home at 73 Lancaster Road, Stroud Green, London.[11]

In November 2017, a statue by Graham Ibbeson was unveiled in Coronation Gardens, Leyton, near Brisbane Road, paying tribute to Cunningham and his time at Leyton Orient.[12] Another statue by Ibbeson was unveiled in West Bromwich town centre in May 2019. The work commemorates Cunningham's time at Albion alongside black teammates Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis, with a spokesperson for the organisers commenting that "the three players opened the gates to allow black players into football at a time when they were locked out".[13]

Career statistics[edit]


Club performance League Cup League Cup Continental Total
Club Season Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Leyton Orient 1974–75 Second Division 17 1
1975–76 34 8
1976–77 24 6
Total 75 15
West Bromwich Albion 1976–77 First Division 13 6
1977–78 33 6
1978–79 40 9 6 3 3 0 2 14
Total 86 21
Real Madrid 1979–80 La Liga 29 8 5 1 - - 7 3 41 12
1980–81 12 5 0 0 - - 5 2 17 7
1981–82 3 0 3 0 - - 2 1 8 1
1982–83 0 0 0 0 - - 0 0 0 0
Total 44 13 8 1 - - 14 6 66 20
Manchester United 1982–83 First Division 5 1 0 0 0 0 5 1
Sporting Gijón 1983–84 La Liga 30 3
Marseille 1984–85 Division 1 30 8
Leicester City 1985–86 First Division 15 0 0 0 0 0 15 0
Rayo Vallecano 1986–87 Segunda División 37 3
Wimbledon 1987–88 First Division 6 2 1 0 0 0 7 2
Charleroi 1987–88 First Division 1 0
Rayo Vallecano 1988–89 Segunda División 19 1
Career total 348 67


Real Madrid[edit]



  • Bowler, D., & J. Bains (2000), Samba in the Smethwick End: Regis, Cunningham, Batson and the Football Revolution. ISBN 1-84018-188-5
  • Paul Rees (2014), The Three Degrees The Men Who Changed British Football Forever. ISBN 978-1-4721-1926-1


  1. ^ "First black England player revealed to be Benjamin Odeje". BBC News. 24 May 2013.
  2. ^ Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Shea, Julian (2009), "From Brisbane Road to the Bernabeu", BBC Sport, 15 July 2009.
  4. ^ FA PR— Laurie Cunningham
  5. ^ Adrian Chiles (17 November 2016). "The match that pitted white players against black players". BBC News. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Laurie Cunningham - Football Career". Archived from the original on 3 July 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  7. ^ Aarons, Ed (4 March 2013). "Laurie Cunningham: Tragic tale of the former Manchester United player who amazed Real Madrid". The Independent. London: Independent Print. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Cunningham killed in car crash". The Observer. 16 July 1989. p. 18 – via
  9. ^ "The wraps come off 125th anniversary mural". West Bromwich Albion FC. 17 November 2004. Archived from the original on 2 February 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  10. ^ "Leyton Orient To Unveil Laurie Cunningham Plaque". Kick It Out. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Cunningham, Laurie (1956-1989)". English Heritage. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  12. ^ Hunn, Jonathan (30 November 2017). "Orient icon Laurie Cunningham honoured with statue". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  13. ^ "West Bromwich Albion: Statue of legends Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson due to be unveiled". CBBC Newsround. 21 May 2019. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  14. ^ "Laurie Cunningham". National Football Teams. Benjamin Strack-Zimmerman. Retrieved 15 July 2009.

External links[edit]