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Laurie Cunningham honoured at Leyton Orient

HONOURED: Laurie Cunningham (PA)

FAMILY, FRIENDS and fans of the late Laurie Cunningham all paid tribute to the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player at his plaque unveiling ceremony over the weekend.

Cunningham, who began his professional football career at Leyton Orient, is seen as a pioneer in the game, changing perceptions about black players and breaking down barriers.

The people who knew and loved him were there to speak about the man who delighted football fans across the country and world with his dazzling skills down the wing.

Former team-mate Cyrille Regis, who played with Cunningham at West Brom, said: “Wherever I go throughout the world there is one word always said about Laurie Cunningham, and that is inspirational.

“He changed the face of British football. He changed the face of black football.

“He inspired a second and third generation of players in a time when you had to fight a lot of racism.

“There were a lot of barriers. Laurie came and stood amongst them.”

TRIBUTE: Cunningham's plaque at Leyton Orient

Cunningham was thought to be the first black player to enter the England set-up when he made his debut for the Under-21 side in 1977, and he signed for West Brom in the same year, teaming up with Brendon Batson and Regis, where the trio became known as the “Three Degrees”.

He later joined Manchester United and Spanish giants Real - the La Liga side spent almost £1m on securing his services.

Speaking on behalf of Orient fans at the ceremony where the blue plaque was unveiled honouring Cunningham’s life, Steve Jenkins said: “It’s sad that fate deals the cards in your life. During his brief life he was a shining star and example to everyone of different creeds and colour.”

Batson, recollecting West Brom’s 1978 Uefa Cup win in Valencia, added: “Looking back on that game in Valencia, I was playing right-back and Laurie was on the right wing.

“I just thank the lord I wasn’t marking him on that night because he was literally unplayable.”

Much to the detriment of the game, Cunningham’s life was cut short when he died in a car crash in Madrid in 1989.

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