TOMORROW evening, ITV is showing a documentary celebrating the life and career of Laurie Cunningham, one of Orient’s greatest ever players.
The documentary tells the story of the first player to have played for both Manchester United and Real Madrid, whose rise from Orient to West Brom and on to the Bernabeu broke new ground.
He overcame racist attitudes within the game during the era he emerged and abuse from the terraces to become the first black footballer to pull on an England shirt, when he represented his country at U-21 level.
The programme features interviews with former Orient players such as Bobby Fisher, as well as footage of Cunningham dazzling the crowds in action at Brisbane Road.
The show also features current Spain football manager and former teammate of Cunningham, Vincent del Bosque who says that Laurie was ‘as good as Cristiano Ronaldo’ in his day.
Cunningham was born in Archway in 1956 and came through the ranks at Arsenal before being failing to make the grade alongside another O’s great, Glenn Roeder. Both were soon snapped up by the O’s and Cunningham would go on to make 86 appearances for the club between 1974 and 1977 before he made the switch to West Bromwich Albion for £110,000.
He was one of the most exciting talents to ever grace Brisbane Road and was known to be quite a character off the pitch. His former manager George Petchey once said: “There was a time when Peter Angell and I wondered if we could win Laurie over. He often turned up late for training, the eyes flashed when we fined him but for all that I loved that spark that made him tick. We had to put his wages away for him in the bank and we encouraged him to caress the ball instead of always just laying it off like most English players.”
Cunningham would go from West Brom to represent the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Marseilles winning six full England caps in the process, whilst in 1988 he came on as a sub for Wimbledon in their famous FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool.
Sadly in the early hours of July 15 1989, Cunningham was killed in a car crash in Madrid aged just 33.
ITV First Among Equals: The Laurie Cunningham story 10.35pm Wednesday March 6, 2013