On Monday, Jan. 15, British football was devastated to hear about the death of former player Cyrille Regis, 59, who passed away from a heart attack Sunday evening. Having been renowned for his sporting prowess when playing for teams in the West Midlands (notably West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Coventry City), and even going on to represent the national England team between 1982 and 1987, Cyrille Regis was admired for his skill and determination, winning the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) Player of the Year award in 1977 with a career that spanned 19 years.
Yet despite his clear talent, the most monumental part of Cyrille’s legacy is that through his triumphs on the pitch, he was able to tackle the horrific racism ethnic minorities faced in the UK at the time, inspiring future generations of black players by being one of the first non-white team members in a sport notorious for its abusive football terraces (stadiums).
Having been first signed to West Brom, playing alongside Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson in the late ’70s, the club was the first to have three black players (nicknamed the “Three Degrees”) in the team at once, which Regis himself called “radical” in an interview. He scored a wonderful 112 goals in 297 appearances for West Brom, fighting all adversity in a climate where black players where told not to take corners in case of being grabbed or spat on by rival team fans. There’s no doubt that his presence in the game helped change the faces on the pitch today and opened up football to modern day sporting heroes from all over the world. Regis was awarded an MBE in 2008, on top of his work for charity since retiring in 1996.
Tributes have also flooded twitter, with individuals such as his manager at the time, Ron Atkinson. The England team’s first black football player, Viv Anderson, thanked him for breaking down barriers for players of all races:
“Cyrille was a demon on the pitch, but off it, he was a kind and warm-hearted person. All three of them (the Three Degrees) were pioneers. I still look up to them. They forged a way for everybody and were admired by all, not just West Brom fans.”
An unbelievable player and a gentleman respected by all his fellow professionals RIP my friend you will be sadly missed 🙏 pic.twitter.com/XsT5QRvm18
— Big Ron Atkinson (@BigRonAtkinson) January 15, 2018
The Hawthorns, West Brom’s home ground is reportedly planning a major celebration in honour of him and described him as “one of the great symbols in the fight against racism in Britain.” Brendon Batson, the last of the three still alive, said of Regis:
“He played the game with a smile on his face. Those who knew him more intimately, he was a pleasure to be around.”
He also talked of Cyrille’s refusal to be bullied by the racists in the crowd and to carry on performing alongside himself and Cunningham, all three breaking down barriers in the beautiful game.
Rest in peace Cyrille Regis, and thank you for your contribution to the world of sport.