Nicky Brown re­calls mov­ing to Spain with her boyfriend Laurie Cun­ning­ham, the first English foot­baller to play for Real Madrid, in 1979

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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

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