An elegant, skilful and pacy forward. He was lethal in one-on-one situations and could play well in any attacking position. He had also had a very accurate shot with this left foot and great ball control. He was the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid.
He made his debut for West Bromwich Albion at the age of 21. Two brilliant seasons there and a great performance against Valencia in the UEFA Cup caught the attention of Real Madrid. The Whites were not the only ones interested but they managed to sign him after some tough negotiations.
Sculpture of Laurie Cunningham by Graham Ibbeson Coronation Gardens Leyton London
The ‘Black Pearl’, as he was known at Real Madrid, was only one of the few Madrid players to receive an ovation at the Camp Nou. This happened on the 10th of February 1980 when Real Madrid beat Barcelona 0-2. Cunningham’s fantastic performance had the crowd on their feet as he took on and beat every Barça player who tried to tackle him.
The Football Times takes up the story:
Having grown up winning dance tournaments throughout South London’s many discos, Laurie Cunningham was always ready to steal the limelight if the moment arose. In the end, the most significant thunder-stealing moment of his life came not on a dancefloor but rather on a football pitch. On 6 December 1978, Cunningham upstaged one of the world’s finest footballers, Mario Kempes.
Inspired by the relentlessly fast winger they possessed in Cunningham, Ron Atkinson’s stellar West Bromwich Albion side of the late-1970s knocked strong pre-tournament favourites Valencia out of the UEFA Cup, with a 2-0 victory in the second leg of the third round.
By this time, Cunningham was already a household name in Britain. His dazzling performances at Leyton Orient and West Brom saw him become the first black player to represent England at under-21 level in 1977. Furthermore, at West Brom, under the tutelage of Atkinson, next to Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson, he formed one-third of the famous Three Degrees strikeforce that took English football by storm.
Laurie Cunninghan, Brendan Batson and Cyrille Regis – the Three Degrees
However, outside the UK he was a relative unknown. Luckily for him, Spanish public television broadcast the UEFA Cup tie live. It just so happened that the Real Madrid hierarchy, along with the rest of the country, took notice as Cunningham’s sheer pace and light-footed trickery stunned the Valencia defence. Read full story here
Sadly Cunningham’s 2 young nieces Samantha and Syretta and his brother’s partner, Norma Richards were murdered in 1982. Twenty eight years their murdered faced justice and sentenced to life in prison. In 1989, just 33 years old, Laurie Cunningham died in a car crash. He had shown such incredible talent.
Nubian Jak Community Trust put up a plaque for Laurie Cunningham in 2013 outside Brisbane Road, home ground for Leyton Orient and the National Trust put a plaque up on his childhood home on Lancaster Road in London. Image at top of blog: Sculpture of Laurie Cunningham by Graham Ibbeson Coronation Gardens Leyton London