Wednesday, July 15, 2015

15 July 1989 - The Death Of Laurie Cunningham

On 15 July 1989, 33-year old former Real Madrid winger Laurie Cunningham died in a car accident in Madrid. He had been the club's first English signing, which was one of many "firsts" throughout his fifteen-year professional career.

Born in London, Cunningham signed his first professional contract with Leyton Orient. He played there for three years before moving to West Bromwhich Albion, where he was joined by Cyrille Regis and, the next year, Brendon Batson to mark the first time an English side fielded three black players at the same time. Cunningham's pace and exciting style of play drew favorable attention and he became the first black player to represent England at any level when he played for the under-21s in a 1977 friendly. Two years later, he became the first black player fielded by the English senior side in a competitive match (Viv Anderson had played earlier for England, but in a friendly).

In the summer of 1979, he made his historic switch to Real Madrid for £950,000. He scored twice in his league debut against Valencia and also played well in both league matches against Barcelona as Real won La Liga and the Copa del Rey that season. The next season, he helped Real reach the European Cup Final, where they lost 1-0. But injuries soon impaired his ability and he went on loan to Manchester United (1982-83) and Sporting Gijon (1983-84) before transferring to Marseille in 1984.

With his pace reduced, he spent the remainder of his career as a wandering journeyman, spending time with Leicester City (1985-86), Rayo Vallecano (1986-87), Wimbledon (1987-88), and Charleroi (1987-88). He returned to Rayo Vallecano in 1988 and scored the goal that secured their promotion to the Spanish First Division for the 1989-90 season. He was looking forward to his return to Spain's top flight when he had the car crash that killed him.

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