West Brom's 'Three Degrees' to be honoured by statue

Image caption,
Brendon Batson (left) was at the announcement of the statue plans with Laurie Cunningham's cousin Claudette Samuel and Cyrille Regis

Three West Bromwich Albion footballers credited with inspiring a generation of black professional players in the UK are to be honoured with a statue.

Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis played for the club in the late 1970s and were dubbed the Three Degrees by boss Ron Atkinson.

When they played together in 1978 it was the first time a top-flight club had regularly fielded three black players.

The £200,000 statue will be unveiled in West Bromwich on 15 July, 2014.

The date will mark the 25th anniversary of Cunningham's death in a car crash in Spain.

The skilful and pacey winger played for England as well as a number of other clubs including Real Madrid and later Manchester United.

He was 33 when he died in 1989 and his cousin Claudette Samuel said he had left a "massive legacy" within football.

'Long time coming'

Speaking at the announcement of the statue plans, Ms Samuel said: "It's a good honour, not just to him but to other footballers.

Image caption,
The statue will depict the three players celebrating a goal

"I believe this is a long time coming".

Many players and pundits alike have acknowledged the positive impact Cunningham, Batson and Regis had on the game.

They endured racist abuse from fans when starring for West Brom during the 1978-79 season, in which the club finished third and beat Manchester United 5-3 at Old Trafford.

Their success has been hailed as helping other aspiring young black players become professionals in the 1980s.

Regis said he was "humbled" by the plans for the 10ft-high statue, called The Celebration, to be created by sculptor Graham Ibbeson, who has also created statues of Eric Morecambe, William Webb-Ellis and Don Revie.

The former striker, who was also capped by England, went on to play for a number of other West Midlands clubs, winning the FA Cup with Coventry City in 1987.

'Role models'

He said: "This project is not about Brendon, Laurie and me, but it represents the journey and progression made by black footballers and the acceptance and encouragement shown by Albion fans and supporters everywhere."

Batson, who worked with the Professional Footballers' Association after he retired in 1984, described the news of the statue as "surreal".

The former right-back said: "It's a recognition of black players from my era who had to put up with a lot more than the current players have to.

"But in spite of all that was thrown at them, they kept coming forward in increasing numbers."

The trio were given the nickname of the Three Degrees, after the Motown group of the same name, by their manager Ron Atkinson.

He said: "They didn't go out of their ways to be role models, it's something that happened naturally."

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