It’s a book of two halves. Brian.
Whilst music fans might remember The Three Degrees as Prince Charles favourite singers, football fans will recall the Ron Atkinson version applied to Cunningham, Brendan Batson and Cyrille Regis, West Bromwich Albion’s three black players.
Newsworthy at the time (the late 70’s) – this was only the second time an English professional team had fielded 3 black guys (note for pub quizzers – West Ham did it first in 1972), this book puts into context just how remarkable Cunningham’s achievements were at the time.
Of the 3, Cunningham was the player I knew least about. Regis was still playing top flight football until 1993 whilst Batson spent 18 years as the deputy chief executive of the PFA. Kavanagh provides a thoughtful and detailed account of Cunningham’s career and the social context that it took place within.
The book follows the chronology of Cunningham’s progress as a player, from his release as a youth at Arsenal, into his more stellar years at WBA and Real Madrid. The book does a good job of explaining just how unusual Cunningham’s transfer to Madrid was, and how short-sighted his exclusion from the 1980 England Euro squad turned out to be. There’s plenty of political and social detail – imagine holding a testimonial game today where a team of white players take on a team of blacks. Cunningham played for Real at the same time Kevin Keegan was at FC Hamburg, and whilst I clearly recalled the latter, I had no memory of the former.
Cunningham the man is a less well documented in the book. Despite the depth of research it all feels a little distant and it’s possible that his introverted, loner nature contributed to this. Cunningham’s love of clothes and dance are explored at length. Yet his split from long term partner Nikki Hare-Brown – something that must have had a huge impact on him – comes and goes in just a couple of paragraphs. It signalled Cunningham’s loss of anyone he trusted to manage his financial and personal affairs, and the passing references to the chaos of his personal life get little further exploration. Younger brother Keith’s girlfriend and 2 daughters are tragically murdered whilst Keith is in Spain with Laurie, something that must have been devastating for the whole family but other than mentioning that the culprit was not caught until 25 years later there’s no further insight as to the circumstances or the impact on the Cunninghams.
Despite this, Cunningham’s prowess on the ball comes alive and it’s clear what an inspiration he has been to a variety of black players and the naked racism he endured both on and off the pitch. A life sadly cut short at just age 33.
“White players attack the ball. Black players caress it” – Laurie Cunningham.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Fashion, football & funk
One thing you’ve learned
When “negotiating” with Real’s agents Nikki and Lauire thought they were discussing monthly wages. It turned out that Real were proposing weekly wages.