Sunday Times picture editor and When Saturday Comes contributor Dermot Kavanagh is attempting to raise funds for the publication of “Different Class : Fashion, Football & Funk The Story of Laurie Cunningham”. Cunningham, one of the first black players to feature on England’s national squad, is recalled thusly by Kavanagh :
In a time when racist chants and bananas thrown at players from the crowd were common, Cunningham’s time at Leyton Orient and West Bromwich Albion changed how black players were perceived and paved the way for a new generation of black English footballers, but his name is largely forgotten today.
I have sketchy memories of watching Laurie Cunningham playing football for West Bromwich Albion on Match of the Day in the late 1970s when I was in my early teens. To my young mind he was cool and exciting and scored seemingly effortless goals while running rings round flat-footed defenders on muddy pitches. But just as soon as he had arrived he vanished and I didn’t think about him again for decades.
His parents arrived from Jamaica in the mid-1950s and settled in Finsbury Park then one of the poorest areas in the country. A tough and vibrant neighbourhood strewn with bomb-damaged houses from the War, it was home to a large black population by the end of the 1960s. As a boy he loved to dance and draw and grew into an exceptional athlete. A quiet and self-contained teenager who took care to dress well, he found expression in the fledgling soul scene that emerged out of pub back rooms and Soho dives. His simple grace and superb balance stood out as much on the dance floor as it did on the football pitch. A team mate from his first professional club Leyton Orient says of Cunningham “one of his major things was to be different, he didn’t want to be around footballers, he wanted to talk about fashion, dance, cinema, we’d go to the West End or go and have a look at the clothes on the King’s Road.”