England’s Under-21 game against Scotland at Bramall Lane tomorrow brings back special memories for those now involved with the Sheffield-based project Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) of the corresponding Under-21 international at the Lane in 1977.
And specifically of what happened the night before the game at what later became their base in Sharrow.
Laurie Cunningham, always remembered as being one of West Bromwich Albion’s so-called Three Degrees, along with Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis, in the 1970s, was destined to be the first black player to represent England at senior international level in that game against Scotland in 1977.
In the days before the game, a request from youth workers at The Hub African-Caribbean Centre was made to the then secretary of the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA, Ernest Kangley and it resulted in Laurie visiting the pioneering youth project in Sharrow on the evening before the match.
Former Caribbean FC player Gilly Whyte recalls: “We were training at Pomona Street when we found out Laurie was going to The Hub. We raced up there and when we saw him we were gobsmacked as he was a big hero.
“When it was announced he was playing for England it was a big thing. To see him at Bramall Lane in an England shirt was special.”
Caribbean FC team manager then and now, Milton Samuels, said: “Laurie did a lot for his community, talking to people like he did when he came to The Hub, and its important that professional players these days stay close to their roots, and not become untouchable.”
The following night, Cunningham marked the historic moment by scoring the only goal in England’s 1-0 win over the same opponents as tomorrow.