With support from the O's and football’s equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, Waltham Forest Council is spearheading the campaign to raise awareness and funds to remember Laurie Cunningham, one of the first professional black footballers to play for England.
Laurie started his career in Waltham Forest withOrient and to celebrate his legacy in opening up the game of football to people of all backgrounds, Waltham Forest Council will erect a statue in his honour in Coronation Gardens near the stadium where he first made his mark on the beautiful game.
Starting out with Leyton Orient in 1974, Laurie played at a time when racism was prevalent. His success with teams such as West Bromwich Albion and Real Madrid paved the way for other black athletes across the country. He also earned six caps for England and, along with winning the double with Real Madrid, helped the Wimbledon to victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final. Tragically, Laurie was killed in a car accident in Madrid in 1989 at the age of just 33.
Leader of Waltham Forest Council, Chris Robbins, who has committed to pay half the costs towards the statue said: “Laurie Cunningham made a huge impact on the footballing world at a time when racism was rife in the game. He holds a special place in the heart of Orient fans and local residents alike and we want a permanent tribute to the man and his achievements, which will also act as a celebration of how well people from all different backgrounds get along in this borough.”
Roisin Wood, Director of Kick It Out said: “Laurie Cunningham was a ground-breaking footballer. The disgraceful discrimination he, and others, faced was a stain on football in the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s important to recognise his impact and the inspiration he would have given to young people watching the game at that time. Kick It Out is fully behind a statue for someone who made such an impression on the game and it will drive awareness about his story for young people growing up in the local area.”
Alessandro Angelieri, Chief Executive of Leyton Orient FC said: “The Club are delighted that Waltham Forest Council, in association with Kick It Out will celebrate the legacy of Laurie Cunningham with a bronze statue in Coronation Gardens. Laurie’s success with the Club, and throughout his career in times where racism was commonplace in football, is an example to many and it is a fitting tribute to have someone of his stature remembered in this way so close to where his career began.”
As well as raising funds for the new Leyton landmark, the year-long campaign will promote his important legacy of inclusion and diversity through community events.
The statue is set to cost just over £100,000 and together with its partners the Council is looking to raise up to £50,000.
If you would like to make a donation, visit www.walthamforest.gov.uk/laurieslegacy.
Anyone who donates over £20 will have their name printed in the special edition of Waltham Forest News that ties in with the unveiling of the statue.