Obituary: Cyrille Regis

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26 January 2018

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The Revd David Winter writes:

CYRILLE REGIS, who died on 14 January, aged 59, of a cardiac arrest, was one of the first black players to break into the upper reaches of English football.

He had a highly suc­­cessful career, spanning almost 20 years, with West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City, and England. Along with a handful of other black players 40 years ago, he was sub­jected to ugly racist abuse from away fans, but Regis, as one of his black col­­leagues observed, was “our Martin Luther King”, and urged them not to show anger or fear, but to “smile, keep playing, and scoring goals and they will come round”. Eventually, they did.

His closest friend, Laurie Cun­ningham, who was with him at West Brom, moved to a Spanish club, and was killed in a road accident in 1989. This, together with the breakdown of his marriage, led Regis to recon­sider his own life and ambitions. He began attending a Free Methodist church in Solihull and, in his own words, had “a real encounter with Jesus Christ”. By then, he was playing for Coventry, with whom he won an FA Cup Winners’ medal.

After short spells with four other clubs, he finally retired in 1996. He then worked as a sports agent, using the opportunity to mentor young players — black, white, or Asian — in the elusive and tricky world of pro­­fessional football.

Alongside that, he became a pop­ular advocate for the Christian faith, frequently in demand to speak at breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and throwing in his lot in with the flour­ishing Christians in Sport move­ment, of which he became a trustee. Its director, Graham Daniels, has claimed that his early stand on behalf of black footballers, and his later position as a mentor, helped to “change the canvas of professional football”.

The media coverage of his death has cited his 158 goals and five England caps as the highlights of his career. He frequently made it clear, however, that his faith in Christ was, as he put it, “more important than anything that happened to me in football”.

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