Nicky Brown recalls moving to Spain with her boyfriend Laurie Cunningham, the first English footballer to play for Real Madrid, in 1979
Nicky Brown remembers footballer Laurie Cunningham’s move to Real Madrid, 1979
This picture was Taken in my parents’ back garden in essex just after it was announced that Laurie had signed to play for real Madrid. i remember the photographer styling my hair – it was quite wild back then. he also had us standing opposite each other with a football between our heads. we just laughed about it all.
Going to Madrid was an adventure, but we didn’t really have a clue what was going on. it was all such a whirl and happened so quickly. we went to spain and left everything behind at home in Birmingham [cunningham had been signed from west Bromwich albion]. we were put in a hotel in the centre of Madrid for a couple of days, t hen Laurie got whisked off to holland with the team. i was left on my own for three weeks. id idn’ t really understand what was happening; i was only 19, and couldn’t speak a word of spanish. i spent a lot of time on the phone to Laurie in holland.
we had met on the dance floor at the Tottenham royal ballroom in London in 1975. id idn’ t fancy Laurie at first. i thought he was a bit spotty, but i liked the way he danced. For a couple of years we were best friends, you know, walking me home with a kiss goodnight. That’s how innocent it all was. he liked watching Fred astaire films. Dancers inspired him, not footballers. we would explore all the little music bars on Goodge street and Tottenham court road and go to the 100 club till 1am. Life was like a film set for us.
when we arrived in Madrid, we stood out because of our free and easy way wit h each ot her. it was post-franco spain and people were still very conservative. They were also fascinated by Laurie. it was intense, bordering on spectacle. Fans would stand a couple of feet away from him and just gape silently. we were a curiosity – the idea of an englishman playing for real Madrid was unheard of. it was overwhelming.
a group of players’ wives were delegated to take me out shopping. They took me to the equivalent of harrods and spoke to me about my dress sense. They picked out some clothes, and suggested i cut my hair in a neater way. Living that kind of life is like being in a goldfish bowl. it changes where you can go and who you can trust. The more money we made the less we paid for stuff, and when that happens you lose your drive, the edge you had.
i left Madrid in 1982 because icouldn’ t stand it a nylon ger.i asked Laurie to come with me, but i knew he couldn’t; he was contracted to the club for another three years. he never quite understood how brilliant he was, and you could never tell him. he wouldn’ t have it. — Interview by Dermot Kavanagh Laurie Cunningham died in a car crash in 1989, aged 33
Different Class: Football, Fashion, Funk – The Story of Laurie Cunningham, by Dermot Kavanagh, is published by Unbound, £20
He liked watching Fred Astaire films. Dancers inspired him, not footballers
Above brown and cunningham in 1979 Right cunningham in action for real madrid in the european cup Final in 1981