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 tomorrow (Thursday, November 30).
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 2.2m 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.
Leyton Orient Club Chairman Nigel Travis said; “I have seen many great players during my 58 years of supporting Leyton Orient, but Laurie had something special from the first time he pulled on an Orient shirt.
“For him to go on and represent West Bromwich Albion and then Real Madrid is something we have never had with anyone else and it is absolutely perfect that we are having this statue put up to remember arguably the most famous player in our history.”