Different Class : Fashion, Football & Funk The Story of Laurie Cunningham
By Dermot Kavanagh
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
Publication date: July 2017Buy
West Bromwich Albion Fan Pack
Leyton Orient Fan Pack
Lunch with the Author
Rare Framed and Mounted Real Madrid Print
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“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.”
- 17th January 2018 THE UNSTOPPABLE CYRILLE REGIS
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…8th March 2017 Time Is Tight...
...to 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…10th February 2017 Dandies Take Care
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…4th December 2016 Futurists In Camden Town
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…18th October 2016 We're Getting There..
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…22nd September 2016 Laurie Cunningham Lived Here
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…22nd September 2016 Laurie Cunningham Lived Here
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…9th September 2016 THE ALL BLACK XII - NEW BBC DOCUMENTARY
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…12th June 2016 LOVE RAYO, HATE RACISM - FOOTBALL IN THE BARRIO
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…20th May 2016 Laurie Cunningham's corner kicks
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…1st May 2016 ON SET, ON THE KING'S ROAD.
"Saturday afternoon on the King's Road was a fashion parade..it 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…7th April 2016 LAURIE CUNNINGHAM - 101% PROOF
'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…27th March 2016 LAURIE CUNNINGHAM REMEMBERED IN N19
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…17th March 2016 'THE GREAT BATSBY'
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…8th March 2016 "ONLY TIME WILL TELL" : LAURIE CUNNINGHAM WOULD HAVE BEEN 60 TODAY.
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…28th February 2016 LAURIE CUNNINGHAM : OFFICIALLY, A GREAT LONDONER.
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…20th February 2016 PITCHING LAURIE
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…29th January 2016 THE ALL-BLACK XI & ST. PATRICK'S DAY FOOTBALL
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…6th January 2016 ROOTS & CULTURE : LAURIE CUNNINGHAM'S EARLY YEARS
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.
http://islingtonfacesblog.com/24th December 2015 "Martin, Mean Streets is Brighton Rock"
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…12th December 2015 "He was very much a London boy, he was one of ours".
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".8th December 2015 BOUND FOR THE BERNABEU
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…29th November 2015 Radical to the Third Degree
'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…
These people are helping to fund Different Class : Fashion, Football & Funk The Story of Laurie Cunningham.