A hero at West Bromwich Albion, an FA Cup winner with Coventry City and a full England international, Cyrille Regis was blessed with pace, power and a penchant for spectacular goals, and was an inspiration to generations of black players.
Born in French Guiana, Cyrille followed his father to England at a young age, and was playing his football with non-league Hayes when he was spotted by West Bromwich Albion chief scout (and former centre-forward) Ronnie Allen. Previously an electrician by trade, Cyrille soon lit up the professional ranks, netting twice on his debut in a League Cup triumph over Rotherham United.
At a time when black professional footballers were still rare in the English game, Regis linked up with former Leyton Orient winger Laurie Cunningham; the pair were later joined by Cambridge United defender Brendan Batson. All three became key fixtures in Ron Atkinson’s side; it would be just the second time that three black players had featured in a First Division starting XI.
Regis hit double figures in five of his seven full seasons at the Hawthorns, and played a huge part in the club’s league successes and an impressive UEFA Cup quarter-final run in 1978/79. Throughout this time, Regis and his black teammates were subjected to horrendous racial abuse from the terraces, but the striker channelled that anger into his performances.
Having scored 112 goals in almost 300 appearances, Regis moved across the Midlands to fellow First Division outfit Coventry City in 1984. After a difficult first season, the centre-forward reached double digits across all competitions in his next three campaigns, finding the net 16 times in 1986/87.
The year also ended Regis’ long wait for silverware, as the Sky Blues lifted the FA Cup, defeating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in a thrilling Wembley final. Cyrille played the full 120 minutes of the match, and scored in previous rounds against the likes of Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday.
Regis was highly regarded beyond the Midlands, earning five full England caps over a five-year period; only the emergence of Gary Lineker prevented him from earning more international recognition.
His talents were also appreciated beyond these shores; former Ajax manager Johan Cruyff admitted in his autobiography that he was keen on signing the striker as a replacement for the outgoing Marco van Basten.
After spells with Aston Villa, Wolves, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City, Cyrille Regis hung up his boots in 1996, having scored well in advance of 150 professional goals. He later moved into coaching and became a player agent, guiding the careers of young players making their way in the game.
For almost two decades, Cyrille Regis was the champion of black footballers across the country, and continued to support and inspire players long after his playing career ended. The Legacy Trust established in his name continues his work, mentoring those from disadvantaged backgrounds and supporting football-based projects at the heart of communities.
Principal clubs: West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City, Aston Villa
Honours: 1 FA Cup