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
Sunday, 28 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 and Mayfair but I can't think of any that exist in Finsbury Park. Cunningham grew up on Lancaster Road close to the disused Victorian railway bridge that crosses Tollington Park. For years Finsbury Park was one of the poorest areas in the country and had a dark reputation for violence. Don McCullin grew up there and took his famous photograph of teenage gang 'The Guv'nors' on Seven Sisters Road in 1958 among the bomb damaged houses, a relic of World War II. For decades Campbell Road, not far from where Cunningham lived, was known as 'the worst street in North London' and nicknamed the 'Campbell Bunk' as police would not dare follow suspects who fled there for fear of the consequences. The noted London historian Jerry White wrote a book about the road in 2003. When I first started to research Cunningham's story I thought how deserving he would be of a blue plaque but presumed he was too obscure and not highbrow enough for English Heritage, as it turns out I was completely wrong, thankfully.
Below Don McCullin's 1958 phoograph of The Guv'nors