GALLERY: Three Degrees statue unveiled honouring footballing icons
The Three Degrees were honoured with the unveiling of a statue in West Bromwich.
They were footballing icons who did their talking on the pitch while their legacy lives on among a new generation of Premier League stars.
The trailblazing trio - Cyrille Regis MBE, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham - are adored by the Albion faithful young and old.
But their roles in overcoming prejudice and battling discrimination have been heralded by the whole footballing world.
Now the beloved teammates, well-known as The Three Degrees, have been remembered with a new statue unveiled in West Bromwich today.
It brings to a close the long-running saga over the statue which was first announced more than seven years ago before it hit fundraising troubles.
Crowds gathered in warm sunshine to cheer on their heroes once again at today's special ceremony outside New Square Shopping Centre.
England stars Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose have spoken out this season about the racism they have faced.
And for surviving Three Degrees star Batson, the statue should come to symbolise that ongoing fight against prejudice.
"The statue isn't just about the three of us," said the 66-year-old.
"It symbolises the journey that we are on as players in that era, but also all the other black players in that era that had to show a lot of resilience as well, so I think it is a tribute to all the black players, no matter what the generation.
"I think people can come along and see, those who have never heard of us, will be able to look us up and see what it was all about and why that statue was put in place."
It marked a poignant moment for Batson following the death of Regis last January.
The West Brom forward's family were invited to attend the launch by organiser Jim Cadman.
Cyrille's daughter Michelle, 35, said: "It is mixed emotions to see my father honoured with this statue.
"It is an incredible statue, also with a little sadness that he didn't get to see it.
"But I guess, nothing before its time, it is great, it symbolises a great team, great players that impacted the game and people's lives.
"The fans, their donations has brought this to life, so this is for them. As a family we couldn't be more honoured."
A major fundraising drive was launched with the backing of Sandwell Council which including dinners, auctions and a celebration night hosted by Baggies fan Frank Skinner at Birmingham Town Hall in 2013.
The statue was originally due to be unveiled on July 15, 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of Cunningham’s death at the age of 33 in a car crash in Spain.
But after fundraising efforts stalled the Professional Footballers' Association stepped in with the final £38,000 to complete the £240,000 10ft bronze statue
The statue was made by sculptor Graham Ibbeson.
Mr Batson spoke of his sadness that he could not be joined by Cyrille, who also played for Wolves and Aston Villa, and Laurie, who famously played for Real Madrid, on the day.
"I still can't believe Cyrille is not with us," he said in a speech to crowds, who had gathered at the nearby Odeon Cinema before the unveiling.
"I still find it tremendously difficult to talk about Cyrille. We spent so much time together.
"I see Michelle and Robert [his children] and his [Cyrille's] grandchildren. I feel for them but this is a day of celebration.
"Laurie was different, that was a tragic accident, but Cyrille didn't.
"I miss them both. I find it difficult being up here [on stage] knowing I am the only one [left] but they are with me all the time."
The trio became known as The Three Degrees after the US pop group of the same name arrived at The Hawthorns to meet them during a visit to the UK.
Jim Cadman, who was behind the project, said: "They made an enormous contribution in breaking barriers that allowed young black men to move into English football and make their mark.
"That is the reason the statue is being unveiled today. It is a symbol of those pioneers of football against racism."
He added: "I feel very proud, very honoured, that fortunately - with a lot of adversity over the past seven years - we have persevered and it is here.
"The reaction to it has been really quite unbelievable. And that is not only me, you have heard a lot of other people say it."
Asked about the financial difficulties of the project, Mr Cadman said: "We kept plugging away and the last payment we needed was made by the PFA.
"They have supported us along the way. But having said that, thousands upon thousands of people have donated small amounts.
"The project has cost - edging with all the set-ups of the base and all the other thing we have had to do recently - it is edging up towards £240,000.
"If you look at the detail, it is fantastic. They will never grow old, people can bring their children and grandchildren to see the statue. It will also add extra energy and life to West Bromwich.
"People will be here all the time taking photographs, it looks fantastic."
Ron Atkinson, known affectionately as Big Ron, had been manager of West Brom when the players rose to fame.
He was among the dignitaries to attend the unveiling alongside Tony 'Bomber' Brown and PFA chairman Gordon Taylor who formally launched the statue.
Atkinson said: "I think the statue is very good. It is a fitting tribute to them.
"It is in a nice place and even the weather has shone brightly for everybody.
"The statue typifies them very well.
"We looked at it like we had three good players playing in a very good side.
"They were great lads, smashing players and they are a credit to the club and themselves."
The Three Degrees statue was completed after a grant from the Professional Footballers' Association of which Batson is a trustee.
Albion made a small nominal contribution to the statue, but are planning their own lasting tribute to Cyrille Regis at The Hawthorns.
The Baggies hope to announce their plans this summer.