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Different Class : Fashion, Football & Funk The Story of Laurie Cunningham

A biography of England's first professional black footballer, who represented Leyton Orient, West Bromwich Albion and became the first Englishman to play for Real Madrid by Dermot Kavanagh

This book is fully funded, but you can still support it!

  • https://unbound.com/books/laurie-cunningham

The Synopsis

“If I can get through this maybe it will lead to others getting a fair chance” - Laurie Cunningham

“There is a real story to tell here. When I used to go dancing in Soho back in the Seventies I used to look up to these really cool young black guys and Laurie Cunningham was one of them” - Robert Elms

Different Class is the first biography of Laurie Cunningham. By supporting this book you will help Laurie get the recognition he deserves (and you will get your name listed in the book as a backer).

Video filmed by kind permission of Park Theatre during their Laurie Cunningham exhibition.

Laurie Cunningham was the first black footballer to play professionally for England when he represented the under 21's in 1977, and first Englishman to play for Real Madrid. In a time when racist chants and bananas thrown at players from the crowd were common, his 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 am grateful that the following people agreed to be interviewed for the book. THANK YOU ... Ron Atkinson, Lloyd Bradley, Mark Bright, Steve Cottingham, Keith Cunningham, Mavis Cunningham, Bobby Fisher, Peter Gillman, Paul Gorman, Nikki Hare-Brown, Leon Herbert, Rob Hughes, ‘Huggy Bear’, Jazzie B, Lloyd Johnson, Colin Jones, Bert Jordine, Michael La Rose, Mark Leech, Don Letts, Sid Lowe, Silvia Lopez, Ambrose Mendy, Neville Murray, Dez Parkes, George Petchey, Mark Powell, George Power, Cyrille Regis, Steve Salvari, Toby Walker, Mark Webster and Jah Wobble.

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.

A couple of years ago I came across a photograph of him taken in 1975 when he was nineteen years old wearing a 1940s style suit and fedora hat standing on one of those perennially muddy pitches and I couldn't get it out of my head. I discovered he was born at Archway in North London, just minutes away from where I live. Intrigued and curious I had to find out more and discover what happened to him.

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.”

Cunningham is an appealingly enigmatic personality. Many people know his name but not his full story. It is a remarkable one of talent and achievement, stalled by injury, that ends dramatically in violent, early death. He was a mercurial and maverick talent who played football at a time when black players were viewed with suspicion by many managements. A contradictory figure, a shy-extrovert and sensitive-dandy, who could play like a dream, then go missing for days afterwards. Through sheer determination he became the first black player to represent England in April 1977 and two years later signed for the world's most famous club, Real Madrid, becoming the first British player to do so.

Different Class is not a typical football biography, it’s also about a time of fashion, music, dance and race. Laurie Cunningham is an important but overlooked figure. He helped change the perceptions not only of football fans but of society too. He won crowds over with his style and swagger and brought glamour to the game at a particularly dark time in its history. His is a very British story of defining yourself through your creativity and imagination regardless of what people think. He is a pioneer whose performances on the pitch meant that black players had to be taken seriously and proved they could succeed at the highest level.

The Excerpt

Cunningham breaks into the Leyton Orient first team 1975

When Cunningham and Fisher broke into the first team George Petchey, Leyton Orient’s manager, received heavy criticism from the local press and wider community for fielding so many non-whites. By this time he had also signed the Indian born player, Ricky Heppolette, a strong midfielder, for the specific purpose of protecting Cunningham on the pitch, and the skilful and aggressive young striker John Chiedoze, a refugee from the Biafra-Nigeria civil war. Supporters of the National Front wrote regularly telling him he should stop playing 'these niggers' and he remembers falling out with a local sports reporter who could not comprehend why he was signing so may blacks to the club. The fact Bobby Fisher was mixed-race and brought up by a Jewish family didn't seem to make much difference either, he reflects with irony,“in those days if you had a suntan you were counted as black”.

Petchey wrote back to his critics and invited them to come and watch a local school match where he assured them that they would soon discover that the best players were all black. To the local reporter's charge that his black players were cowardly, a depressingly common view held throughout football, he responded “you tell me Muhammad Ali is a coward, I say no. I tell you what three of them will be great players. Laurie Cunningham will be best, then John Chiedoze behind him and Bobby Fisher.” Read more...

The Author

I am the Sports Picture Editor of the Sunday Times newspaper. I have worked at newspapers, magazines and picture agencies for the past twenty five years and love the stories that old photos and news clippings can yield. I have had articles published in the Sunday Times, football magazine When Saturday Comes and Howler, and am a contributer to the literary website London Fictions. Years ago when I was a picture librarian writing and cross-referencing index cards by hand I was told the best way to explain a photograph was by answering five questions, who? what? where? when? and why?.Answering those same questions is how I started to write Different Class. My interest in Laurie Cunningham began with an archive photograph that I simply had to find out more about. I live in London with my wife and three sons.

Questions & Answers

Paul Nice Paul Nice asked:

We are just fans...my friend Martin Kerstin (?) said he used to play Snooker with him at the place on Leyton High Road...I and other friends just marveled at him on the left wing at the O's. We had a dodgy pitch back then and he wasn't too good with a lot of water on it, but then, who would be! Sorry I can't afford the book...maybe next year we'll be millionaires, get promoted too?

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Paul - thanks for your message, how was his snooker arm then ? I have heard Brisbane Road was often waterlogged. In the picture of him in the Great Gatsby suit it definitely looks like it is 'soft' enough to take a stud.

Dermot

Hi Dermot,
Great choice for a book. I went to the same secondary school (Highgate Wood) as Lawrence, as he liked to be called, I'm told. I believe Robert Peston (author and economist) was in the same football team at school as him so he might be able to chip in! From what I have been told (I was about five years below him in school) Mr Adams the games teacher (recently jailed for sex offences at the school) used to make Laurie run across the red gravel in bare feet as a punishment! Nice bloke Mr Adams! Good luck with the book - I look forward to reading it.
Frank Radcliffe

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Frank - Robert Peston wrote an article in the Telegraph years ago that suggested the school should be renamed after Laurie. I did try to get in touch with Mr Adams but (understandably now) I couldn't get to him via the school. Thanks for pledging - Dermot

Hello Dermot

Great to see you taking on such a brilliant subject. Anyone who loves football should support this book. Saw a documentary on Laurie - amazing footage of him taking a corner without the outside of his foot! He banana kicked the corner! Have you seen that?
Also - I think you should get in touch with the Orientear Fanzine and get them to run a piece on you and this project (if you haven't already!).
Finally - will the book be lavishly illustrated?
Best of luck!
John

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello John thanks for this and for the heads up on orientear fanzine, I'll get on to them ASAP. Yes I have seen the banana kick corner which became a bit of a trademark, incredible speed he gets on it.There is also terrific footage of him playing for under 21s in 1977 v Scotland where he does a lovely swirling spin and turn past two players that is a pure dance move.There are lots of great pics of him in action and I have some good personal pics too which really tell his story.

regards, Dermot

Alan Mayes Alan Mayes asked:

Hi Dermot,
I suppose my memories are most strong of Laurie's brief period playing for Leicester (13 games on loan in the 85/86 season) - seeing him ghost across the midfield, even towards the end of career, showed the sort of class he possessed. I've seen precious few photos of Laurie playing for Leicester in that period so it'd be nice if there was one in the book - but regardless, I'm aboard anyway, so hope to see a copy soon. Best wishes,
Alan

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Alan He had a big impact on Mark Bright at Leicester who as a young player couldn't quite believe that Laurie was on the same training pitch as him. Thanks very much for your support.
Dermot
Dermot

Tim Hillyer Tim Hillyer asked:

Good evening Dermot

Please launch a Fan Pack for Wimbledon supporters. Those of my generation remember a very hot day at Wembley when Laurie came off the bench to keep the ball, frustrate the men in red and run down the clock. His time with The Dons was far too brief, contributed hugely to our FA Cup victory and still celebrated. One of a select few truly great players to wear our yellow and blue shirt.

Happy New Year and good luck with the book.

Tim Hillyer

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Thank you Tim, he's is fondly remembered by many clubs (he played for quite a few) but I can only imagine how great that day must have been, he's one of those players that left a big impression wherever he went- I only saw him on TV - he seemed to see and play the game differently to most others.

Dermot

Hi Dermot, first may I congratulate you on taking up this challenge of writing about the life of Laurie Cunningham whom I truly believe was and still is the one of the greatest wing players that played for England and never truly got his rewards, one way or an other to be brief. I had the pleasure of being at Leyton Orient at the same time, but was five years younger than him. What an awesome player!!!
I have pledged for a hundred pounds and look forward to having lunch with you and digressing on a few insights into this enigmatic and wonderful human being.
My question to you is what time schedule do you have for your autobiography and also I'm aware through the Islington gazette that you had an exhibition on Laurie and wondered if you thought about a foundation for Laurie Cunningham and what he represented as a role model to the Black community?

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Simon thanks very much for pledging. Initially it depends on reaching 100% total , but it is going well so far, over a third pledged, though it's hard to put a specific final date on it. Still contacting people and raising awareness. The exhibition was good and a great venue at Park Theatre with some interesting people attending, there are some further events planned by others that I can tell you about at lunch. Thanks Dermot

Jamie J Jamie J asked:

Any plans to get a contribution from Bobby Gould or John Fashanu regarding his time at Wimbledon? Seem to remember hearing his partner comment on how much he enjoyed his time there...

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

hello jamie - thanks for the question. Yes I am hoping to speak to someone from his Wimbledon days, be interesting to hear about that time.

Dermot

Just in case you haven't seen this in Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/feb/26/laurie-cunningham-dancing-footballer-richard-williams
Mike Fitzgerald

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Mike thank you, yes I did see it, great news too. Dermot

Martin  Stern Martin Stern asked:

Hi Dermot.
Good luck with this project.
Watching Laurie blossom at the O's was a treat.
I remember when the ST article was published. Once Brian Glanville had recognised Laurie's talent it was clear we were not going to be able to hold on to him - Hopefully there are more images from the photo shoot?
I have sent an email to unbound - I have some material that might be useful to your research.
Good to see that George Petchey ( and Peter Angell) will get credit for saving him and nurturing his talent.

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Martin
thanks for the message. There is another image inside the magazine that's great,a group shot in the dressing room, I'll see if I can post a scan of it. George Petchey was great to interview. I only realised recently from a news cutting that Peter Angell died on the eve of Laurie's move to Madrid - he touchingly mentions him in a newspaper piece from the time.I'd be very interested in the material you mention - if you use twitter I have a page @D1fferentClass, where
I can direct message you.

best regards
Dermot

lee marple lee marple asked:

Hi Dermot,
What a great idea for a book.
I remember watching Laurie play for the Albion in the late 1970's with my dad and brother and what a player he was ! There was a guy in the crowd sitting near to us who used to always shout out "skin 'em Loz" whenver he got the ball.
Strangely, I now live in Crouch End and his school, Highgate Wood, is at the end of my street.
Lee

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Thank you Lee . I think the school has a display in the hallways or corridor on Laurie...about time too, they should name the sports hall after him at least in my opinion. Maybe one day.
Thanks for supporting the book,

Regards,
Dermot

Paul Robinson Paul Robinson asked:

I wish to make a pledge but give the book as a gift to a dear friend who is a WBA fan with his name in the back of the book. Is this possible?
Many thanks,

Paul

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Paul,

Yes you can indeed add someone else's name in the back of the book. Just follow these steps: https://unbounders.zendesk.com/hc/en-gb/articles/207817337-How-do-I-check-or-change-the-name-s-in-the-back-.

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Community & Events Manager

Paul Robinson Paul Robinson asked:

Caitlin,
I copied and pasted the step and it told me it didn't exist. Am I being a touch slow?
Paul

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Paul,

It's seems to be working https://unbounders.zendesk.com/hc/en-gb/articles/207817337-How-do-I-check-or-change-the-name-s-in-the-back- (mind you don't include the full stop in the URL). You'll need to have pledged for the book first before you can change the names in the back. I hope this helps!

Susie Barson Susie Barson asked:

Did Laurie Cunningham play football in his local park (and mine) -Finsbury Park? If there was any evidence/pictures perhaps we could acknowledge that in the park in some way.

Susie Barson

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Susan
I am told he did play in Finsbury Park as a schoolboy with friends but don't know if any photographs exist. I have not come across any yet.
regards,
Dermot

Suzy Clode Suzy Clode asked:

when is the book going to be published please?

Dermot Kavanagh Dermot Kavanagh replied:

Hello Suzy - thanks for your question, I am finishing the manuscript in the next few weeks then it's over to unbound for editing, design, production etc...I don't know how long that will all take, sorry to sound vague but it will be some time next year. Dermot

The Rewards

All supporters get their name printed in every edition of the book. All levels include immediate access to the author's shed.

$15
Digital
E-book edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $15 19 pledges
$25
Hardback
1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $25 209 pledges
$45
Collectable
Signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $45 56 pledges
$65
West Bromwich Albion Fan Pack
Your name listed in the back of the book as a West Brom fan, 3 postcard prints of Laurie (one England pic, one WBA and one soul boy picture) and signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $65 15 pledges
$65
Leyton Orient Fan Pack
Your name listed in the back of the book as a Leyton Orient fan, 3 postcard prints of Laurie (one England pic, one Orient and one soul boy picture) and signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $65 13 pledges
$95
Laurie Print
An A3 fine art digital print of Laurie, plus signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
West Brom


Leyton Orient

📖 Pledge $95 6 pledges
$125
Lunch with the Author
Lunch with the author, plus signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $125 5 pledges
$440
Rare Framed and Mounted Real Madrid Print
A rare action framed and mounted (24" x 21") print of the first ever European Cup Final in June 1956 when Real Madrid beat Reims in Paris, the first of their five straight victories in the competition, plus signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book
Only one available

Sold out
$2,500
Patron
Our eternal thanks and your name printed in the front of the book thanking you for your contribution, plus lunch with the author, 10 signed 1st edition hardback, ebook edition and your name in the back of the book