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Statue for iconic black footballer to be unveiled

REMEMBERED: Laurie Cunningham

A LARGER-than-life statue of Laurie Cunningham, celebrating his legacy in the world of football, is to be unveiled a stone’s throw from Leyton Orient Football Club’s Matchroom Stadium.

Initiated by Waltham Forest Council, the project has been supported by Leyton Orient Football Club and football’s equality organisation, Kick It Out.

One of the first black players to play for the England senior team, Laurie Cunningham rose to prominence in the Football League during the 1970s at a time when racism was prevalent in the game. He was also the first English footballer to play for Real Madrid, helping to change the face of European football forever.

He made his debut for Leyton Orient in 1974 paving the way for black sportsmen and women across the country. In 1977, he went on to play top-flight football for West Bromwich Albion which, after West Ham, became only the second side in the league to field three black players in the same team, in a match against Tottenham Hotspur.

In his career, Laurie made a total of 348 appearances for UK and European clubs, scored 67 goals and played 12 times for England at both under-21 and senior level. Sadly, his life was cut far too short when, aged 33, he died in a car accident in Spain in 1989.

The idea for the statue was initiated by the former leader of the Council, Councillor Chris Robbins and the renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson was commissioned to design a statue of Cunningham, celebrating his extraordinary talent and unique achievements.

Graham is well known for other bronze statues including Eric Morecambe (unveiled by the Queen in Morecambe in 2014) and has recently been commissioned to create a statue of Victoria Wood for her hometown of Bury.

The statue is modelled on a famous photograph of Laurie Cunningham, taken when he played for Real Madrid. At approximately 2.2 m tall, the statue is constructed entirely from bronze and located in Coronation Gardens, next to Brisbane Road.

Among those expected to attend the unveiling are members of Laurie Cunningham’s family, the Leader of Waltham Forest Council and Leyton Orient’s Director of Football, Martin Ling.

Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council: “While this statue celebrates the formidable legacy of one man, it stands for so much more. It personifies Waltham Forest’s commitment to level the playing field wherever there is inequality of treatment or opportunity and represents the rich cultural history of our borough underlining our bid to become London’s first Borough of Culture.”

Cllr Chris Robbins added: “Laurie Cunningham was a trailblazer for British and European football, breaking down the barriers of race by being one of the first black players for England and Real Madrid. It is right this achievement should be recognised and commemorated so close to the origins of his success.”

Troy Townsend, Kick it Out’s Education Manager, commented: "When I was growing up, Laurie Cunningham was a hero of mine - with his fabulous talent shining through, despite overt racism being rife in football at the time. Now, Kick It Out is delighted to support the unveiling of his statue in Leyton, recognising one of the most iconic footballers to have ever played the game.”

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