Never has the subject of racism in football been more pressing than it is in the modern game, however without the influence of West Bromwich Albion’s Three Degrees the sport wouldn’t be as far down the line as it is. While Raheem Sterling is doing tremendous work in the field today, the path was set for the Manchester City star by Brendon Batson, Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham during the Baggies glory days in the 70s.
While the players made a stand against discrimination in the sport, they were also among the most talented players in the country at the time. Something that Baggies fans wish they could have now. Following their defeat to Aston Villa in the Championship playoffs they will remain in the second tier for another season.
Despite this desperately disappointing defeat, they will still be among the bookmakers’ favourites to secure promotion next season and can be quoted at a price as high as 8/1 for promotion with some companies.
The Best UK Bookmakers will currently have West Bromwich Albion among the leaders for promotion, however, given their current situation it remains to be seen whether they will be able to attract the players that are needed to remain competitive in the market.
The fans’ would give anything to see their men from 70s back playing as they would be immediately odds on for promotion. But what made them so loved around the local area?
United Against Discrimination
Back in the 70s, there weren’t many teams that would field one mixed-race player, never mind three. But West Brom were keen to showcase the talents of these three players, and they went on to become cult heroes. Indeed the discrimination in which they received was sickening, from both spectators and even opposing players.
However, this just spurned the trio on, and they proved that they could perform at the highest level of the sport. When they played alongside each other for the first time in 1978, the manager at the time, Ron Atkinson quickly gave them the nickname of ‘The Three Degrees’; which was in reference to a famous American band at the time.
Regis was the most famous of the three and scored 112 goals in 297 appearances for the Baggies. He scored twice on his debut against Rotherham in the League Cup. Sadly, he had to leave the club to achieve his dream of winning trophies; something which he eventually achieved by winning the FA Cup in 1987 with Coventry City.
The Sky Blues entered that fixture as heavy outsiders against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the nowadays equivalent as Watford being the 12/1 outsiders in this seasons FA Cup final against Manchester City. However, Regis was able to play a vital part in their narrow 3-2 win against a team that contained players like Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles.
Regis was a sought after striker at this period, and Johan Cruyff attempted to sign him for his Ajax team following the departure of Marco van Basten. However, his exploits in this final took his price higher than the Dutch side were willing to pay.
He was awarded an MBE in 2008, and following his death in 2018, two of his former clubs Coventry and West Brom now play a match in his honour during pre-season called the Regis Shield.
The much-loved winger was a stable in the West Brom team throughout the 1977 and 1979 campaign. He also held the record for the first black player to play for England until the record was re-checked by the Football Association in 2013. Following 86 appearances for the Baggies he moved onto play for Spanish giants Real Madrid; becoming the first British player to do so in the process.
Madrid could only dream of having a defender with his reputation at present. Should they have Cunningham these days then it would be likely that they would be a better price to win the La Liga title next season than they currently are.
He will be forever remembered in the footballing world after he tragically died in a car crash in Madrid in 1989. He has statues in London, Leyton Orient and West Bromwich.
The defender became the first black player to ever feature for Arsenal before going onto spend the majority of his career in the West Midlands. He played in 172 games for the Baggies, scoring the solitary goal. Following his retirement, he was a pioneer for kicking discrimination out of the game and took up a position at the Professional Footballer’s Association, where he remains a trustee to this day.
The Three Degrees are players that West Brom fans will never forget, and they were immortalised with a statue in the town on the 21st May 2019.