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Regis, Cyrille

Cyrille Regis

1958

British soccer player

Cyrille Regis is the best known of a trio of black players who appeared for the West Bromwich Albion team in the late 1970s, a time when there were very few black players in English soccer. At that time, to have three on one team was unique. A powerful striker with great pace, Regis joined West Bromwich Albion, also known as "The Baggies," in 1977 at the age of 19. In his first professional season, he scored 18 goals, appeared in a Football Association (FA) Cup semi-final, and became the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year. He joined Coventry City in 1984 and made almost 300 appearances, including being part of their FA Cup winning side of 1987. He played for England 14 times, including five full "caps," or appearances on the main team, as well as appearances in "B" internationals, and for the under-21 team. Regis was feared by defenders for his formidable pace, strength, and his ability to score goals from long range. He was also a fiercely competitive player, and though he faced a great deal of racist abuse on the pitch, he channeled his anger into a greater determination to play well. The efforts of Regis and the small number of other black players in Britain since the 1970s have changed the attitude of football fans and helped the English Football Association itself begin to take action against racism at games.

Cyrille Regis was born in Maripasoula, French Guyana, on February 9, 1958, to Robert Regis, a laborer from St Lucia, and Matilda Regis, from French Guyana. His first language was French, but he moved to Britain at age five and held a British passport because of his father's nationality. He grew up in London where he attended local schools; at age 16 he left school to begin an apprenticeship as an electrician. With obvious talent for soccer he also joined nearby amateur side Hayes Football Club where he stayed for two seasons, scoring a total of 45 goals, an impressive total for a teenager in a senior team. By then convinced he wanted to become a professional soccer player, Regis was spotted by West Bromwich Albion (WBA) scout Ronnie Allen and signed for £5000. It is claimed that Allen paid for Regis with his own money because he could not convince WBA about the player's ability.

Became a Professional Soccer Player

The move from London-based Hayes to West Bromwich, near Birmingham in the English West Midlands involved more than just relocating to another part of the country; the difference between the two clubs was immense. The professional WBA team was one of the founding clubs of the English Football Association and had been promoted to the English first division (now The Premiership) in 1976. WBA was considered one of the big football clubs of the time, regularly playing in front of large crowds. Regis debuted for WBA aged 19 in a League Cup game against Rotherham on August 31, 1977. Until then he had never played in front of more than 500 people, but the crowd that day numbered 13,000, an experience he described to Contemporary Black Biography (CBB ) as "truly scary, but then you feel the passion of the fans as well." He endeared himself to the supporters by scoring in his first game, but gaining acceptance took longer than one game. Seventeen more goals were to follow that season, in which "The Baggies" made it to the FA Cup semi-final largely because of the goal scoring partnership of Regis with Ally Brown and Tony "Bomber" Brown.

Regis moved to WBA at the same time as another black player from the amateur leagues, Laurie Cunningham, and the pair became close friends. When manager Johnny Giles left the club in 1978 his replacement Ron Atkinson brought in a third black player, Brendon Batson, a surprising move at a time when racism was deeply ingrained in British soccer. Fielding three black players for the first time ever in English football, WBA came in for harsh treatment from opposition fans. Regis, Cunningham, and Batson were nicknamed "The Three Degrees" by Atkinson, after the popular black singing group of the time. Although it was meant affectionately, the nickname was in questionable taste; in 2005 it would not be acceptable to single out players that way. In fact many English fans at the time still believed that black players were lazy, lacked skill, and would not be able to play in cold weather. Some expressed their views by throwing bananas onto the pitch during games. But Regis told CBB that while racial abuse was certainly one of the "mind games" used by opposition fans inside the arena it was not part of his everyday experience. Even so he did once receive a bullet in the mail with a note warning him never to play at Wembley, the national stadium. He explained that on the pitch he was able to channel his anger into improving his performance: "the best answer to it was to score a lot of goals," he told CBB.

Built an Impressive Record

Regis's competitive mindset ensured that he put in many impressive performances at WBA and he became a favorite of the fans, who called him "Smokin' Joe." Having scored on his professional debut he went on to score 82 goals for the team in 237 league appearances, including 25 in the 1981-82 season alone. But by 1984 the exciting WBA side of the late 1970s had broken up. Cunningham left for Real Madrid in 1979, manager Atkinson departed for Manchester United in 1981 and then bought key players Bryan Robson and Remi Moses from WBA in 1982 for a record £2.5 million. Regis himself transferred to Coventry City in 1984, where he spent the next seven years, and where he won his only major medal as part of the FA Cup-winning team of 1987 when they beat his childhood team Tottenham Hotspur 3-2. By then Regis was a popular and well-respected player. His playing style was that of a typical English center forward: physical, courageous, and able to score goals on the slightest of chances. In particular he was renowned for his spectacular long-range shots.

At a Glance...

Born Cyrille Regis on February 9, 1958, in Maripasoula, French Guyana; married 1983 (divorced); children: Robert, Michelle. Religion: Catholic.

Career: Hayes Football Club, amateur soccer player, 1975-77; West Bromwich Albion Football Club, professional soccer player, 1977-84; Coventry City Football Club, professional soccer player, 1984-91; Aston Villa Football Club, professional soccer player, 1991-93; Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, professional soccer player, 1993-94; Wycombe Wanderers Football Club, professional soccer player, 1994-95; Chester Football Club, professional soccer player, 1995-96; West Bromwich Albion, reserve team coach, 1996-99; First Artist Corporation, football agent, 1999-2004; Stellar Group, football agent, 2004.

Memberships: Professional Footballers' Association; Christians in Sport.

Awards: Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year, 1978; FA Cup Winner's Medal, with Coventry City, 1987; played for England's main team five times.

Addresses: Office The Stellar Group Limited, 16 Stanhope Place, London W2 2HH, United Kingdom.

Regis told CBB that in many ways he had a fairytale career. Starting out as a teenage hopeful, being spotted by a first division team, playing for England, and winning the FA Cup is the romantic backdrop to the dreams of many English boys. But he was at pains to point out that apart from hard work and talent his career benefited from a great deal of luck. And there were setbacks too. The problem of racism on the pitch was one, but Regis also described the problems that came with sudden wealth and fame at a young age. Then in 1988 his close friend Laurie Cunningham, with whom he had shared the experience of starting out in big-time soccer, was killed in a car accident in Spain, at age 33. Regis had been involved in a similar accident with Cunningham two years earlier and the pair had walked away unscathed. He told CBB that he and Cunningham had become "famous together and rich together" so Cunningham's sudden death made him reappraise his approach to life. It was shortly after this event that he became a Christian, and he remains a member of the organization Christians in Sport.

Regis's career at Coventry ended when he was bought in 1991 by Ron Atkinson who was then manager of another midlands team, Aston Villa. But his stay at Aston Villa was short; he moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1993, then after a year and just 19 games he went to Wycombe Wanderers, where he became the club's oldest player to appear in a senior game at the age of 37 years and 86 days. His playing career ended with injury in 1996 while playing for Chester City.

Enjoyed a Twenty-Year Career

Regis's long playing career is testament to his huge enthusiasm for the gamethe same enthusiasm and desire to play helped him through his difficult early days at West Bromwich Albionand came across very strongly in the interview he gave to CBB. But he is also driven by an understanding of soccer as a community sport and expressed genuine admiration for the passion and commitment of football fans for their local team. In his twenty-year career Regis was an important figure in gaining acceptance for black players in the game, but as he explained, he never set out to do anything of the sort: he just wanted to play the best he could and win.

While at Wolverhampton Wanderers Regis took his coaching qualifications and was prepared to become a coach when his career ended. When that finally happened he took the job of reserve team coach at West Bromwich Albion, a job he described as "the worst in football" because no player wants to play or train with the reserves. After several changes of personnel at the club Regis finally left after three years and became an agent with First Artist Corporation where he trained and qualified as a FIFA football agent. He joined The Stellar Group in 2004 and acts as agent for several players, including his nephew, Jason Roberts.

Sources

Books

Bowler, Dave, and Jas Bains, Samba in the Smethwick End: Regis, Cunningham, Batson, and the Football Revolution, Mainstream Publishing, 2000.

Matthews, Tony, Smokin' Joe: Cyrille Regis25 Years in Football, Britespot Publishing Solutions, 2002.

Periodicals

Observer (London), September 7, 2003.

On-line

"Black British FootballersCyrille Regis," Black Presence in Britain, www.blackpresence.co.uk/pages/sport/regis.htm (February 1, 2005).

"Cyrille Regis," Hayes Men, http://members.aol.com/mtofhayesfc/hayesfc/regis.htm (February 1, 2005).

"Cyrille Regis," Dictionary of Athletes and Sports Personalities, www.explore-biography.com/sports_figures/C/Cyrille_Regis.html (February 1, 2005).

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Cyrille Regis on January 19, 2005.

Chris Routledge

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