Never forget an Albion legend and a cultural icon
Last Saturday, we presented our annual game in support of Kick It Out, an organisation that over the years has broadened its initial remit and now focuses not just upon racism but on discrimination of all kinds. Given the way the world seems to be turning back the clock at present, I suspect they’re going to be busy these next few years.
The organisation was initially brought into being by the flood of appalling abuse and discrimination showered largely upon the first wave of black footballers who began making their way in the English game in the 1970s and 1980s, men who were treated scandalously by the bigoted, the prejudiced, the downright stupid.
One man who was the focus for much of this moronic bile was Laurence Paul Cunningham, born on this day, 8th March, back in 1956.
By virtue of his extraordinary talent - close control that would make Messi weep, balance that stepped out of the Royal Ballet or an Olympic gymnastics final, the smooth acceleration of a thoroughbred – Laurie was made to stand out.
By virtue of his talent, not his colour.
But the 1970s were violent days on the terraces and instead of marvelling at this incomparable genius – in 40 years, the English game still hasn’t seen anything like him – the bear pit stadia in which we played were full of those who would scream at him, not because he was wearing the shirt of another team, but simply because he was breathing.
If Laurie Cunningham was a footballing phenomenon he was a yet more courageous human being for going out there, producing the goods week after week in spite of all when it would surely have been easier to slink into the background.
But the sheer scale of his ability would not allow him to do that. He was born to play football and his spirit soared whenever he gave expression to that soul. And when he did that, however loud they shouted, the sheer ugly stupidity of the knuckle draggers that would oppose him was exposed again and again and again, something that we must continue to do, whoever that venom is directed against in our football grounds, be it people of another colour, another creed, another country, another orientation.
His mate, Cyrille Regis, got a bullet through the post when he was first named in an England squad.
Look again at the shirt in the picture accompanying this article and just remember that there were foaming at the mouth lunatics who would have liked to put a bullet through it while Cunningham was inside it, weaving his magic.
Those are not mere words, hyperbolic exaggeration. It is a reflection of the truth as it was then.
We’ve come a long way. We’ve much, much further to go. Be ever vigilant.