Support is needed to build and erect a bronze statue in memory of enigmatic footballer Laurie Cunningham at the place where his career began.
The left-winger started his career in Waltham Forest with Leyton Orient FC, having been let go by Arsenal, before going on to play for England. He was the first British player to transfer to Real Madrid.
Waltham Forest council is spearheading the campaign, with support from Leyton Orient FC and Kick It Out – football’s equality and inclusion organisation. The statue will be situated in Coronation Gardens, near the stadium Laurie made his debut.
Laurie’s life was cut short when he was killed in a car accident in Madrid in 1989, at the age of 33.
Residents, fans and businesses are being urged to raise money to build the statue in his honour, in the week of what would have been his 60th birthday.
The son of a former Jamaican racehorse jockey, the footballer was often late for training. So much so that Leyton Orient began fining him £1 every time – something he funded by winning dance competitions. His dancing skills were spotted by a ballet company, who asked him to join the troop.
Laurie played at a time when racism was rife in the game, and he helped to break down the barriers that prevented black people from playing. During matches, racist abuse was hurled at the player. Bananas were thrown onto the pitch. Leyton Orient manager George Petchey advised Laurie to hand them to the linesman, which he did.
Kick It Out director Roisin Wood 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.
Leader of Waltham Forest council Chris Robbins has committed to pay half the costs towards the commemorative statue.
“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,” he said.
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.
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.
Leyton Orient FC chief executive Alessandro Angelieri said: “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.”
To pledge towards the statue, click here.