Currency $ USD
Publication date: July 2017
111% funded
339 backers
Cover of 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

“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.

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.

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.”

Dermot Kavanagh commented on this blog post.
Dermot Kavanagh commented on this blog post.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Cyrille Regis is one of those footballers you never forget. I only ever watched him play on TV as a boy but his presence on the small screen was so big that it left an unforgettable impression. He had the charisma of a film star and played with such brisk adventure that I dare not stop watching in case I missed something wonderul. During his time at West Bromwich Albion, along with Laurie Cunningham…

Time Is Tight...

Wednesday, 8 March 2017 get your name listed as a supporter and published in Laurie Cunningham's upcoming biography Different Class. The deadline is (dramatically) MIDNIGHT this Sunday, 12th March. If you haven't already pledged or think it would make a good present for somebody you know please think about buying a copy. The book is published in July and would appeal to anyone who likes 1970's musio, fashion and football…

Dermot Kavanagh commented on this blog post.

Dandies Take Care

Friday, 10 February 2017

Screen shot 2017 02 10 at 10.43.34 copy

The cover artwork for 'Different Class' has been approved and is now on amazon where it is available to pre-order before it's publication date on Thursday 13th July. I am told that traditionally books are always published on a Thursday, although I don't know why this is. I am very pleased with the cover. It is simple with elegant lettering, and suits the subject well. Laurie Cunningham was sometimes…

Futurists In Camden Town

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Futurists k cummins

It came as a surprise to be told the other day that 'Different Class' is now available to pre-order on Amazon. I have only recently been assigned an editor by Unbound and still don't know what they think of my first draft but I'll find that out when we meet later this month I suppose. Since I handed over the manuscript I haven't really thought that much about the book, and have stopped endlessly editing…

We're Getting There..

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Screen shot 2016 10 15 at 10.15.41

I handed in the first draft of 'Different Class' to Unbound yesterday. It's been a long road and I've been told that the fun bit begins now. The manuscript will be edited first and then artwork and design chosen before it goes in to final production. I don't know how long this will all take at the moment but the book should be published around the middle of next year all being well.Thanks once again…

Laurie Cunningham Lived Here

Thursday, 22 September 2016

When I first became interested in Laurie Cunningham's story and found out that he spent his early years nearby to where I live I went to walk along the street where his house is to try and imagine what it was like when he lived there between the years 1966-1976. I plotted a trail in my mind's eye of the places where he would have played football and danced. I thought that he deserved some sort of…

Laurie Cunningham Lived Here

Thursday, 22 September 2016


When I first became interested in Laurie Cunningham's story and found out that he spent his early years nearby to where I live I went to walk along the street where his house is to try and imagine what it was like when he lived there between the years 1966-1976. I plotted a trail in my mind's eye of the places where he would have played football and danced. I thought that he deserved some sort of…


Friday, 9 September 2016

Earlier this year I wrote about the extraordinary match that took place in May 1979 at West Bromwich Albion's ground when an all black team played an all white team. Now there is to be a TV documentary made about the game. The former Albion club photographer Laurie Rampling posted these pictures on Facebook earlier. Baggies fan Adrian Chiles will present the documentary which will be shown on BBC…


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Main door

Last week I went to Madrid to see two of the grounds where Laurie Cunningham played football. The first, Estadio Bernabeu home to Real Madrid, was impressive as I had expected. Situated in the financial district of the city with its leafy boulevards and broad plazas the stadium sits massively on the corner of a busy junction facing a cluster of corporate glass towers.

The second, which is definitely…

Laurie Cunningham's corner kicks

Friday, 20 May 2016

Laurie Cunnigham's first season in Spain was a great success. Real Madrid won the double and 'el negrito'  as he became known by euphoric fans was feted for his skill and unique talent. One particular skill that caught the imagination was his trick of taking a corner with the outside of his foot and making the ball swerve so unpredictably as to make it almost unplayable. Attached is a video of a game…


Sunday, 1 May 2016

Gettyimages 593333893

"Saturday afternoon on the King's Road was a fashion was like a movie, it was literally a movie in the fifties and everyone was dressed to the nines."  

So said Leon Herbert one of the top dancers of the 1970's soul scene in London when I interviewed him for the book. I can remember that feeling too when I first went there as a teenager in the early 1980's. Although it was well past…


Thursday, 7 April 2016

'Different Class' is now fully funded. In fact it is one percent past full, according to the totaliser. I found out last week-end and was hoping it would get to the finishing line after going on to talkSport radio on the Thursday beforehand to talk about it. I was invited on to the Hawksbee and Jacobs afternoon show and arrived early so as to rehearse everything I needed to say, such as accurate dates…


Sunday, 27 March 2016

Sport cunningham tarry 32

Almost three years ago, in summer 2013, I helped organise an exhibition about Laurie Cunningham in Archway. It ran for a week on Junction Road in N19 in a disused shop that Islington Council had made available for twelve months as an art space. Now, of course with its proximity to Dartmouth Park 'village' (an ever- rising property hotspot), it is a glossy estate agent's with a silly and pompous name…


Thursday, 17 March 2016


I went on to the Whistleblowers football podcast last night to talk about 'Different Class' along with DJ and Charlton fan Ric Riscardo. It is hosted by Mark Webster who was an original seventies soul boy and has been a DJ, presenter, scriptwriter and broadcaster for many years. He can now add impressionist to that list. Marvel as he attempts to do a convincing Paul Scholes and scratch your head as…

Dermot Kavanagh commented on this blog post.


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Screen shot 2016 03 03 at 17.43.17

Following the good news that the house in Finsbury Park where Laurie Cunningham spent a large part of his childhood is to receive a blue plaque later this year, Leyton Orient FC and Waltham Forest Council announced a joint campaign yesterday to raise funds for a Cunningham statue to be placed in Coronation Gardens in Leyton where his career began.The anouncement is well timed as today would have been…


Sunday, 28 February 2016


It was encouraging to hear the (long overdue) news that Laurie Cunningham is to be honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque later this year as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations. I have always considered blue plaques to be emblematic of London and can never walk past one without reading it and even make detours if I see one from afar. Obviously there are plenty in places like Chelsea…


Saturday, 20 February 2016

I was pleased to be interviewed by Peter Gruner recently for the Camden New Journal as he is somebody I have always liked reading. Now writing book reviews for the New Journal, Different Class features in this week's edition, he previously spent eleven years as a tireless reporter for the Islington Tribune. He exemplifies what a good local reporter should be and writes to the simple credo 'everyone…


Friday, 29 January 2016

Laurie rampling

While researching 'Different Class' I learned about a football match played in the West Midlands that would surely be inconceivable today. At at time when racist abuse on the terraces was at its height a game took place at The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion in May 1979, that pitted a black XI against a white XI. It was played shortly after the general election that swept Margaret Thatcher…


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Doc050116 05012016113244 copy


Here is a blog I have just written for 'Islington Faces' a great site for all things Islington created and run by Nicola Baird. Many thaks to Nicola for inviting me to write about Laurie and his Archway beginings.

"Martin, Mean Streets is Brighton Rock"

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Doc231215 23122015102431 0001

It's a timely present to reach 20% just as Christmas arrives. Thank you and good will to everyone who has pledged so far. One of the more colourful and idiosyncratic people to pledge is Kosmo Vinyl whom I met a couple of years ago when he came to an exhibition about Cunningham that I had put together in Archway. Kosmo is a seminal if undefinable figure from the days of Punk. He was factotum, emcee…

"He was very much a London boy, he was one of ours".

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Doc121215 12122015101459

So said the broadcaster Robert Elms about Laurie Cunningham when I was a guest on his BBC Radio London show in July 2013. Elms was a contemporary 1970's soul boy and frequented Crackers the club in Soho where the best dancers would gather each Friday afternoon.He wrote about that time well in his 2005 memoir "The Way We Wore".


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

1979 29.06 laurie cunningham and director john gordon at heathrow airport daily mail pic

This picture was taken in June 1979 at Heathrow Airport and shows Cunningham on his way to Spain to sign for Real Madrid alonside West Brom club director John Gordon. Gordon got on well with Cunningham and visited him a number of times after he moved to Madrid. He liked champagne which had the unfortuante side effect of making his comb-over parting unravel the more he drank it. It is interesting to…

Radical to the Third Degree

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Doc281115 28112015215232 0001

'Radical to the Third Degree' is the name of an article I wrote a couple of years ago for the US soccer magazine 'Howler'. It is a 100+ page glossy quarterly that is very well designed with high production values and can be bought online via their website. Although mostly about soccer in North America they write extensively about European football too and have contributors from all over the world…

Paul Nice
Paul Nice asked:

We are just 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.


Frank Radcliffe
Frank Radcliffe asked:

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

John O'Donoghue
John O'Donoghue asked:

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!

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,

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.

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.


Simon Amos-Melius
Simon Amos-Melius asked:

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.


mike fitzgerald
mike fitzgerald asked:

Just in case you haven't seen this in Guardian:
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

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.

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,


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,


Unbound replied:

Hi Paul,

Yes you can indeed add someone else's name in the back of the book. Just follow these steps:

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Community & Events Manager

Paul Robinson
Paul Robinson asked:

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

Unbound replied:

Hi Paul,

It's seems to be working (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.

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

Join in the conversation

Sign in to ask a question