|Brendan Batson plays for West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion’s 'Three Degrees'
- Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson -changed the
colour of the beautiful game. Over 25 years after their glory days,
Inside Out finds out more about them.
When Michael Owen was substituted for Darius Vassell
in England’s World Cup quarter-final match against Brazil, history was
For the first time ever, there were more black players
on the pitch than white, representing England’s national team - arguably
a revolution in British football.
Many believe the seeds for that change were sown in the
Midlands by three black footballers - Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham
and Brendan Batson.
when he was West Brom's manager
During the 1978/79 football season, West Bromwich Albion
was the first club to field three black players. Their Manager Ron Atkinson
gave them their chance.
"They could have been yellow, purple, and have two heads,"
he says, "So long as they could play and they were good lads - and they
Ron nicknamed the boys the Three Degrees following an
appearance by the real Motown legends at the club's ground.
Legendary Midlands sports journalist Bob Downing reflects
on their phenomenal impact on the whole of English football, "People talk
about them being a breath of fresh air and those three lads were," he
"Laurie had flair, Cyrille was all power and Brendan
was the thinking man’s footballer. I don’t think they ever went anywhere
looking for a draw."
The Three Degrees became the role models for thousands
of black boys who wanted to play football.
Dion Dublin admits being inspired by them, "I think the
three of them broke the mould for the black people of the Midlands and
I’m obviously one of them. I think they had a part to play in the whole
of the English game."
Robbie Earle says, "Together they paved the way for players
like me. Without the inspiration provided by the likes of these players,
I might never have considered football as a career."
winning the PFA's Young Player of the year in 1979
Despite their success on the pitch, life wasn’t easy
for the three degrees. The late 70s were a time of race riots and right-wing
Brendan Batson says, "We had some quite hostile receptions
- it was extremely unpleasant.
"When we were going to games, you could see the National
Front outside, handing out their racist literature.
"We never felt intimidated by it. If anything, it galvanised
us into even better performances."
The arrival on the scene of Cyrille, Laurie and Brendan
made a huge difference to the integration of black players into English
But have attitudes to black players really changed over
the last quarter of a century?
Measures have been taken to kick racism out of football,
on a professional level, but how far has racism been able to "kick
it out" at a grassroots level?
Seventeen-year-old Ephram Williams, a Highfield Rangers
player, describes how he has suffered both physical and verbal racist
abuse on the pitch since he was 10-years-old.
"If the ref doesn’t hear it, you can’t do anything about
it," he says.
"You just have to get on with it."
death was a shock to football
The Three Degrees were split up when Laurie moved to
Real Madrid for £1 million.
Sadly, in June 1989 Laurie was killed in a horrific car
Cyrille says, "Laurie Cunningham died and I realised
by priorities were wrong."
Brendan retired in 1984 and became a senior executive
at the Professional Footballers’ Association. Cyril played for four West
Midlands clubs before hanging up his boots.
West Bromwich Albion broke the mould back in the late
70s, and the influence of the Three Degrees is still felt in stadiums
across the country.