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
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 has got something interesting to say even though you might not agree with them'.He befriended Boris Johnson, a 'very nice bloke' when he was president of the Islington Tories and Jeremy Corbyn attended his leaving do last year where he joined him in singing a version of 'The Wild Rover' in a Camden Town pub. In an interview with Islington Faces blog he comments that when writing a piece he is conscious that 'people don't read further than the third paragraph so the introduction is really important.'
The introduction to his New Journal piece is a good case in point.He writes about a match in December 1974 played at Millwall F.C. Leyton Orient were the opposition that day (not West Brom as printed) and fielded three black players, Laurie Cunningham, Ricky Heppolette and Bobby Fisher, almost certainly the only black faces in the tightly packed ground that day. Greeted with bananas hurled on to the pitch as they arrived and spat at and verbally abused from fans behind the home goal where the players tunnel emerged on to the pitch, the psychological pressure on all three must have been intense. As winger Cunningham had been warned by his manager George Petchey not to play near the touch line in case ball bearings were thrown at him, so when he scored a late goal and celebrated beside team mate Fisher with a black power salute aimed directly at the Millwall crowd, the previous vitriol transformed into ferocious hatred. The players were quickly pushed into the dressing room by nearby police officers, one of whom asked despairingly, "do you know you have started a riot?' seemingly oblivious to the sustained abuse heard throughout the game. Fisher says the pair didn't fully understand the significance of the gesture at the time and claims it was more an instinctive act, but they both fully understood the effect it would have at a place like Millwall. It stated "This is your greatest fear.This is really going to kill you and you can do nothing about it."
Read Peter Gruner's piece here: http://www.camdenreview.com/reviews/features/pledge-of-support-for-cunningham-book