Sport on TV: Laurie had a lot on his plate and it still leaves a nasty taste
Sunday 10 March 2013
Laurie Cunningham was a pioneer for one obvious reason: he was the first black man to play football for England at any level. Of course that meant he was at the frontier of the fight against racism, weaving around the bigoted barbs of the crowd just as he had to jump over the tackles of brutish Seventies defenders. But that should not put his other groundbreaking feats in the shade: First Among Equals: The Laurie Cunningham Story (ITV, Wednesday) revealed that he taught Mark Bright what cutlery to use and introduced Peter Reid to garlic tiger prawns. He had to peel it for Reid, though; he may have been at the cutting edge, but to bring English football out of the dark ages you had to go one step at a time. At least he wasn't selfish with his knowledge of shellfish.
Cunningham was miles ahead of the rest in many ways. He learned all about prawns while playing for Real Madrid in the days when they were only allowed two foreigners, and spoke fluent Spanish. He didn't really fit in with the England team because his stepovers and dropped shoulders were a little too fancy for the English game – he ploughed the same furrow that Cristiano Ronaldo now does at the Bernabeu.
Cunningham was into ballet and yoga too, and he would have been a surefire hit on Strictly Come Dancing. He and his partner, Nicki Brown, went from one nightclub to another – at least some things never change – winning competitions in different dance categories in order to pay off the fines he received for being late for training at Leyton Orient.
The rise of the "Three Degrees" at West Bromwich Albion seemed to be a game-changer for black players but as John Barnes, a target of racists, noted: "We have been elevated out of blackness. We have been accepted into the mainstream. They don't see us as black. So what does that mean?" He added: "As we've seen in the last few months, it's still alive and kicking."
We are told a third of English pros now come from ethnic minorities and yet there are only five black managers. Cunningham died aged just 33 in a car crash. If he was still alive he might be bemused to see that racism is again bedevilling his beautiful game.
* When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean agreed to appear on Piers Morgan's Life Stories (ITV, Friday) they must have known the slippery former tabloid editor would ask if they had ever "done it". As they are Britain's "most famous and best-loved double act", it's a story that red-top journalists have been chasing for three decades.
Dean revealed they "dabbled", that he "may have kissed her" while she was asleep once. Their co-presenter on Dancing on Ice, Philip Schofield, opined: "There's something about the ice, whether it's the fumes from the fake tan or the amount of sequins, there's something about it that makes a human being rampant." Clearly that was not the case with Torvill and Dean, who hardly broke the ice in their 38 years as a pair.
Dean has now hooked up with Dancing on Ice judge Karen Barber, whom he has known for even longer than Torvill. So instead of generating the heat of passion it would seem skating romances are slow burners. At least that gives you a chance to get off the rink before the cracks begin to show.
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