Football mourns the death of former England striker Cyrille Regis
Popular figure described as a pioneer for black footballers in Britain and beyond
Cyrille Regis: died suddenly at the age of 59. Photograph: Reuters/File
A flood of tributes has greeted the sad and shocking news that Cyrille Regis, the former West Brom and England striker, has died aged 59.
Regis, who passed away following a cardiac arrest on Sunday, won the last of what should have been far more than five international caps in 1987, the year in which he also won the FA Cup with Coventry City.
It was with Coventry and West Brom with whom Regis spent the lion’s share of a career that began with the striker earning £5-a-week at Surrey side Molesey to supplement the £20 he earned on building sites working as an apprentice electrician.
Making sure to secure his ticket to work as a full-time “spark”, Regis promptly abandoned his trade to embark on a far more exciting one as a full-time professional footballer with Hayes, West Brom, Coventry, Aston Villa, Wolves, Wycombe and Chester City. His most prolific time as a striker was with West Brom, for whom he scored 112 goals in 297 appearances. He was awarded an MBE in 2008.
Born in the rural town of Maripasoula in French Guiana, Regis would have made his way through life known as Gilbert were it not for the forgetfulness of a family friend.
Regis’s father, a gold prospector at the time, had intended for his son to be named Gilbert Cyrille Regis, but in what can only be described as a classic you-had-one-job moment, the pal who he tasked with registering his son’s birth on a visit to the Guianan capital of Cayenne came up one name short.
Described by West Brom on Monday as “the iconic figurehead of the club’s legendary ‘Three Degrees’ team of the late 1970s” who “lit up the Hawthorns with his thrilling brand of forward play”, it seems scarcely credible that at one stage during Regis’s West Brom career, he and the other two degrees, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham, were three of only four black footballers playing in the English top flight at the time.
Nottingham Forest’s Viv Anderson was the fourth and as they went about their business, they were subjected to no end of unspeakable racist abuse from the terraces. Regis once received a bullet in the post, which he kept as a constant reminder not to let the banana-chucking bigots win.
“He also became one of the great symbols of the fight against racism in Britain as a pioneer for black footballers across this nation and beyond,” added West Brom in their warm tribute to a popular club servant whose outstanding qualities as a quite brilliant footballer were often overshadowed by his status as a dignified and more-than-willing role model for other black players trying to make their way in the game.
Former Manchester United striker Andy Cole today described Regis as “my hero, my pioneer, the man behind the reason I wanted to play football”. Cole was just one of dozens of footballers, past and present, of every stripe and shade to pay tribute to a man many revered as a hero.
A lapsed Christian whose life derailed before he returned to religion following the death of his friend Cunningham in a car crash, Regis leaves two children, Robert and Michelle, behind from his first marriage and three grandchildren, Jayda, Renee and Riley.
“Cyrille and I were soulmates, he was the perfect man for me and we had a wonderful life together,” said his widow, Julia. “He was a beautiful man and a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle. Losing him has turned my whole world upside down, it is a void that will never be filled.”