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From the past: Remembering West Brom legend Laurie Cunningham

By Joseph Masi | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

It was one of the saddest pieces of news that West Midlands football has known.

Laurie Cunningham celebrates following Albion's 1-1 draw at Valencia.

It was 30 years ago yesterday that Albion legend Laurie Cunningham lost his life in a car crash in Spain. He was 33.

It was a tragic end for such a wonderfully gifted footballer.

His legacy as a pioneer for the beautiful game, however, will always live on.

Cunningham was the first British player ever to be transferred to Real Madrid.

He was also the first black player to play for England at any level higher than schoolboy.

In this part of the world though, he is best known for being part of one of the greatest sides Albion ever produced.

Cunningham made his debut at Tottenham in March 1977 and quickly established himself as one of the finest goalscoring wingers in English football.

Making an immediate impact at The Hawthorns, he created history when he, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis all started against Ipswich in 1978.

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It was the first time three black players had ever started a league game.

And Cunningham’s skill and charisma had fans up and down the country on the edge of their seats.

As a result, the Baggies were one of the most attractive sides in Europe by the late 1970s.

They reached the FA Cup semi-final and UEFA Cup quarter-final – with Cunningham’s performances soon attracting attention.

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The winger was superb when West Brom beat Man United 5-3 at Old Trafford in 1978.

He then followed that up with yet another brilliant display when Albion held Valencia to a 1-1 draw in a UEFA Cup game in Spain.

And it was that display which alerted Real Madrid, with Cunningham joining the Spanish giants for a fee of £950,000 in 1979.

His first season was a huge success. Cunningham scored a brace on his debut and helped Madrid go on to win a league and cup double.

But despite his club success, the winger was bizarrely overlooked by manager Ron Greenwood for a place in the England squad for Euro 1980.

He again impressed for Madrid the following campaign with that form earning a recall to the national side.

He also played in the European Cup final that year, with the Spanish side falling to a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.

From that point, Cunningham’s time with Madrid was blighted by injury. But he picked up a second Spanish Cup medal when he played in the final in a 2-1 win over Gijón. The winger left Madrid to join Manchester United on loan in 1983.

He then had a season with Marseille before spells at Leicester and Rayo Vallecano.

Cunningham returned to England on a short-term deal with Wimbledon.

And he was part of the Dons’ squad that famously beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.

He wasn’t done winning medals though.

Cunningham again headed back to Spain and Rayo Vallecano for the 1988/89 season.

And he enjoyed an Indian summer by scoring the goal that secured their promotion to the Primera Liga.

Married to a Spanish wife with one son, he tragically lost his life in a car accident just outside Madrid on July 15, 1989.

He will always been remembered, however, as a true footballing icon.

Joseph Masi

By Joseph Masi
Football MMPJ - @josephmasi_star

West Bromwich Albion reporter.

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