Albion's Three Degrees statue step closer to reality
They wore the blue and white stripes with pride and fought prejudice with as much vigour as they would any football match.
Now plans for a statue honouring West Bromwich Albion's legendary Three Degrees – Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis – have moved a step closer thanks to a fundraising dinner.
The family of the late Laurie Cunningham were special guests at the event which was held at The Hawthorns.
Campaigners behind the bid to build the statue say a further £40,000 to £50,000 is still needed to make the statue a reality.
It will show Cunningham celebrating with teammates Regis and Batson and will take pride of place in West Bromwich's town centre.
Former manager Ron Atkinson famously referred to the pioneering players as the Three Degrees after the legendary US soul singers of the same name.
Atkinson, Regis and Batson were all at the event and paid tribute to Cunningham who left the Baggies for a £950,000 fee to play at the Bernabeu for Real Madrid in 1979.
Cunningham was killed in a car crash in Madrid in 1989. He was just 33-years-old.
His family, including Laurie's son Sergio and his brother Keith, said it was an emotional night to hear the glowing tributes.
Keith said: "If I am honest this has all made me a bit emotional. I would like to thank everyone here for helping to keep Laurie's memory alive.
"It is great to see so many supporters, not just of Laurie, but for the club as well. It is beautiful. It is really lovely."
Plans for the statue have faced delays while funding is raised for the project.
The bronze statue, costing £220,000, will be erected near New Square shopping centre.
The three black players are credited with helping to bring down barriers in the fight against racism on the terraces.
Businessman Jim Cadman, the man behind the scheme, said he hoped to raise about £30,000 for the project at the dinner.
Guests could pay to have a photo with a mock-up of the statue to help the cause. Cunningham's first England cap was also on display.
Mr Cadman is hoping that the statue will be completed by the end of the year.
Speaking at the fundraising dinner, Atkinson, the former Albion and later Aston Villa manager, said Cunningham, Regis and Batson had all been terrific footballers.
He said: "One thing I have always said as a manager is that if you sign someone twice during your career it has got to be right.
"Well, I had all three of these at two different clubs. They were great role models. They did not go out of their way to be that, they just were.
"Laurie himself was a really nice guy. He was very much an introvert and quite a deep thinker when it came to the game.
"From what I have seen since the player who reminds me of him the most, that I have seen, was Thierry Henry."
Batson said: "Laurie was a terrific talent. He was a real joy to play with. He was an extrovert on the pitch, but quite shy off it. It is quite humbling and sometimes embarrassing that a lot of people think we deserve this.
"It is a lot to do with the impact that we had while we were here, but that impact was a lot due to the fact that we were part of a very, very good Albion side.
"Derek Statham was there, Ally Brown – we had quality all through the side. Bryan Robson was just emerging as well. We were lucky to be part of such a good side."
Regis said that having a statue would be a huge honour. He said: "When you are starting out you do not dream or have aspirations about getting a statue, you are dreaming about playing at Wembley.
"So when someone says they want to build a statue of you it is a very humbling thing to happen."
An auction will be held in the summer in a bid to raise any remaining funds required for the statue.
It is hoped that the sale of Laurie Cunningham's first England cap will also help raise money for the cause.
Other fundraising events have been held in recent months for the project including a night hosted by Baggies fan and comic Frank Skinner which was held at Birmingham's town hall.
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