A statue of three trailblazing black footballers has been unveiled in the West Midlands following a six-year campaign.
The 10-foot bronze sculpture was created in tribute to West Bromwich Albion trio Cyrille Regis, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham, where they can be seen celebrating a goal.
The statue, created by sculptor Graham Ibbeson, was completed following a £38,000 donation from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
It will stand in West Bromwich town centre, having been unveiled by PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor.
Sandwell Mayor Joy Edis told HuffPost UK: “I feel extremely proud that my final engagement as Mayor of Sandwell was to attend the unveiling of this magnificent statue.
“It is a fitting tribute to three Baggies legends, including Cyrille Regis, a Freeman of Sandwell.”
Members of Cyrille and Laurie’s families attended the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday, alongside former West Bromwich teammates.
All three players are widely thought to have paved the way for black footballers.
When they played together for West Bromwich in 1978, it was the first time a top club had regularly fielded three black players. The club’s manager, Ron Atkinson, dubbed them ‘The Three Degrees’ after the popular US pop group.
Jim Cadman, who campaigned for the statue, told ITV: “The irony is that it is now going to be unveiled when racism is rearing its ugly head, and there is an investigation into racism against England at Montenegro. These three players were true pioneers of the game who made genuine football history in West Bromwich.
“The Celebration Statue will convey passion, strength and achievement to a global football audience and support the fight to remove all aspects of racism from our beautiful game.”
Speaking at today’s ceremony, PFA chief Taylor acknowledged that there is more work to do in overcoming discrimination in the sport.
“The mission is not yet complete and that is for our grandchildren to wonder what racism was,” he said.
Reflecting upon the statue’s significance, a West Bromwich Albion FC spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The contribution of Cyrille, Laurie and Brendon, not just to football but the Britain we have come to know, shall never be underestimated and their story continues to inspire all at West Bromwich Albion.
“They are worthy of such tributes to which the Club hopes to add its own in the near future.”
Laurie Cunningham, one of the first black footballers to play for England and the first British footballer to play for Real Madrid, was killed in a car crash in 1989, at the age of 33.
Cyrille Regis died last year, aged 59, following a heart attack. His career spanned over 19 years.
Brendon Batson, the only living member of the three trailblazers and former PFA deputy chief, said: “This is a day of mixed emotions for me. We had to show a tremendous amount of resilience. This statue symbolises the journey of black players”.
Describing the camaraderie between him and former team mates, he added: “Laurie and Cyrille are still with me every day. I was privileged to be part of such an amazing team.”