Every once in a while, there comes a sportsman like no other. Not necessarily in terms of skill, or ability on the football field, though this man had it all there too. Cyrille Regis was a good man, perhaps one of the best human beings to ever step foot onto a football pitch, forever changing the lives of black football players for generations to come. Not allowing racism to take a foothold in the beautiful game, and coaching young black players later in his career, Cyrille Regis was a fine footballer, and a decent man during indecent times. He passed away on 14th January 2018, with a very sudden heart problem.
Cyrille Regis started his professional playing career in the season of 1975/76, before securing a big money move to West Bromwich Albion, where he would spend some of his most prolific goal-scoring years, alongside his next club, Coventry City. Regis moved to West Brom in 1977, where he would spend the next seven years, scoring 81 goals in 241 appearances before securing a £250,000 move to Coventry City seven years later. During his spell at Coventry, Regis would make 238 appearances and score another 56 goals. During the entirety of his footballing tenure in England, Regis would score 158 goals in 614 appearances for West Brom, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Wycombe Wanderers, and Chester City.
Between 1982 and 1987, Regis would also go on to make five appearances for the England national team, paving the way for black players for many years to come, such as John Barnes, Dion Dublin, Dwight Yorke, and Ian Wright. Speaking in interviews with various sports media outlets, various players from the last few decades have spoken about the personal relationship they shared with Regis, or the impact that his career had on them as black footballers. Dion Dublin, speaking to Gary Lineker during a live episode of Match of the Day, broke down in tears when describing the impact that Cyrille Regis had on his playing career. Fighting back the tears, Dublin was able to say, “I used to watch him all the time, and if it wasn’t for him, I would never have been a professional footballer. He’s going to be missed.”
“The more abuse I received, the more I channelled my anger into my performances.”
The tributes came pouring in for Cyrille, with former players and pundits alike cementing his status not just as a tremendous footballer, but also as a great man with a stout heart. Rio Ferdinand said, “RIP Cyrille Regis. A great man. Helped set the foundations for others. Always remembered,” whilst Eniola Aluko added “Rest in peace & power. You led the way for so many of us.” Former Manchester United striker Andy Cole said, “Devastated. My hero, my pioneer, the man behind the reason I wanted to play football, has passed away.”
During his playing career, Regis was subject to some truly horrific accounts of racism from people trying to impair his ability or enjoyment when playing football. Regis spoke at length in his autobiography and during interviews about how the abuse he received acted as fuel for his performances. Regis said in his autobiography, “The more abuse I received, the more I channelled my anger into my performances.” Regis had an incredible ability to play on in the face of overwhelming racism and horrific chants from certain sections of crowds that didn’t want him to play, or even be associated with their club. Unfortunately such chants are still present in today’s game.
“Cyrille Regis has had more of an impact on black footballer’s lives than most of us outside the industry will ever know.”
It wasn’t just chants from the crowds however, as Regis was victim to more personal and direct attacks. For example, one such story includes Regis receiving a bullet in the post one day before his England debut. He recounts the tale in his autobiography, where he says that he was opening ‘fan mail’ in the dressing room one day, and opened one to find the bullet. The bullet itself was accompanied by a message made up of newspaper clippings which read “If you put your foot on our Wembley turf, you’ll get one of those through your knees.” Regis claimed he later laughed about it, but kept the bullet until his untimely death earlier this year.
Cyrille Regis’s legacy lived on well past his playing days and continues to thrive in the Premier League today. With black players like Romelu Lukaku and Sadio Mane being key players and key roles in some of England’s biggest teams, Regis changed minds forever through his actions both on and off the field. Refusing to sink to the level of racism that was constantly thrown at him, and continuing to mentor younger players throughout their careers, Cyrille Regis has had more of an impact on black footballer’s lives than most of us outside the industry will ever know.
In the years following the end of his playing career, Regis worked closely with the anti-racism footballing charity, Kick It Out. In the summer of 2014, Regis met with legendary goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, to back a fundraising campaign which would erect a statue of Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, outside of Rotherham FC’s New York Stadium. It’s work such as this, as well as meeting with younger black players, that inspires so many footballers today to stand up in the face of racism.
Cyrille Regis sadly passed away on 14th January 2018, from a sudden heart attack, but his memory was commemorated by football clubs up and down the country by applause, silence and reflective black armbands. Regis was a trailblazer for black footballers, who overcame horrific racism through his love for the game, and the desire to not see it corrupted by a select group of ignorant fools. Defeating bigotry and racism, Regis continues to inspire a generation of black footballers today.