by Karl Hofer.
Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis were three exciting and gifted footballers, and back in 1979 they were the catalyst behind West Bromich Albion challenging for major honours once more.
They also happened to be black.
It is difficult to imagine now, but three non-white players in the same team was a highly unusual sight, certainly in the UK at least.
So with a trio of black singers known as The Three Degrees enjoying a period of great success in the charts with hits like When Will I See You Again & The Runner, it seemed perfectly natural to nickname the players after the group.
When the group toured the UK a photoshoot was hastily organised at Aston Villa striker Andy Gray’s new nightclub, the Holy City Zoo, in which players and singers posed uncomfortably together. At the time, it appeared sweet, a little staged but innocent for the most part.
But the achievements of the footballing trio eventually worked wonders in terms of race relations and their part in highlighting race issues in Britain should not be forgotten.
Former team-mate Bryan Robson said: ‘We went to the opening of Andy Gray’s nightclub and Cyrille, Brendon and Laurie were there. So were the American supergroup, The Three Degrees. It was too good a photo opportunity to miss. Albion’s black players posed with the girls and from that moment on, we had our own Three Degrees.
‘I’m convinced that stunt helped break down prejudice. At the time, I remember away supporters leaving hundreds of banana skins at the Smethwick End. We have come a long way since then.’
West Brom had qualified for the UEFA Cup that season, earning a mouth-watering tie against Valencia and Argentinian World Cup winning superstar Mario Kempes in the Mestalla Stadium.
‘It was the match that earned Laurie Cunningham his move to Real Madrid,’ recalled Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, who scored a staggering 218 goals from midfield.
‘There was no-one to touch him at that time. He was graceful. He used to glide over the pitch. He absolutely tormented Valencia’s right back.
‘All of a sudden, we were sitting there in the second half when Laurie received the ball. Hundreds of oranges started raining down on to the pitch. Their crowd had got that fed up with Laurie, they were pelting him with fruit!
‘One of the lads pointed it out to him afterwards and he said with a wry smile, “I suppose it makes a change from bananas…”.’