This week, we learned of the sad passing of Cyrille Regis. We take a look at the life and career of this marvellous man in the latest addition to our Legend series.
The Early Years
Cyrille Regis was born in Marisapoula, French Guinea on the 9th of February 1958 and moved to London with his family at the age of five. Cyrille showed a talent for all types of Sports during his school days. Athletic talent is obviously a genetic trait in the Regis family with many of the family making careers for themselves as professional Sports Stars, notably his nephew Jason Roberts, who played for the Baggies just like his Uncle. His cousin, John Regis,was also a successful sportsman, winning a silver medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and a bronze four years later in Barcelona in the 4x100m and 4x400m races respectively, as well as winning gold in the 1989 World Indoor Championships in the 200m race.
Cyrille had a trial for Chelsea as a teen, however due to a minor hamstring injury it would not be successful, although Chelsea’s loss would be Albion’s gain. After leaving school Cyril trained as a electrician and combined practicing his trade with playing non league football. Whilst playing for Hayes, Regis would score 25 goals in the 1976/77 season, this would catch the attention of Baggies legend and talent scout Ronnie Allen who immediately recognised the raw talent Regis showed and invited him to attend a trial at the Hawthorns. Ronnie Allen knew a thing or two about what it took to be a successful striker as he himself had banged in 208 goals for the Baggies in 415 games during the 1950’s.
Hayes demanded a fee of £5,000 for Regis, a fee the Albion board were hesitant to pay for a non league striker as it was a lot of money to pay in those days. Allen was so convinced of Regis’s talent that he offered to pay the fee himself, but eventually, the Albion board decided to take a chance and pay the money, a decision time would prove was the right one.
A Baggies Legend is Born
After the resignation of Johnny Giles as Albion boss, Ronnie Allen would take over at the helm and quickly fast tracked Regis into the first team picture. After scoring on his debut for the reserves, Cyrille would follow this up by netting on his first team debut in a 4-0 League Cup victory over Rotherham on the 31st of August 1977.
His League debut would follow just three days later against Middlesbrough, with Cyrille lighting the game up by taking the ball from the half way line up into the Boro box before slotting home, a goal described even by Boro players as a piece of pure brilliance. Regis was quickly becoming a cult hero to the Baggies faithful and his run of scoring on debuts showed no sign of stopping as he blasted home again on his FA Cup debut in a 4-1 victory over Blackpool.
It quickly became evident that this raw young talent had everything needed to become a top striker, pace, power and lethal finishing ability off either foot. His teammates were easily won over by his selflessness and work ethic, that he brought with him from his days working on building sites .
His breakthrough season would see him catapulted into the limelight and he would be voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1978. The older generation of football fans will always remember Regis for his goal of the season strike in 1982, a long range thunderbolt against Norwich City in the FA Cup.
1982 would be a mixed bag for Regis as he would net a career high 25 league goals and be selected for the England Squad for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Sadly however, he would have to withdraw due to injury. His talent would eventually receive international recognition however and he would go on to receive five caps for his adopted Country.
Regis played for the Albion between 1977 – 1984 and although there would be no silverware, the club finished as high as 3rd in the League in 1978/79 and the teams swashbuckling style of play would captivate the imagination of the footballing public. The Baggies side of this period also included club greats like Bryan Robson, Tony “Bomber” Brown, Derek Statham and the two other members of the three degrees, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Baston, to name but a few.
The highs of Big C’s, as he became affectionately known Baggies career, would include a memorable 5-3 victory over Man United at Old Trafford. The lows would include 2 FA cup semi final defeats against Ipswich in 1978 and QPR in 1982. The 1978 defeat against Ipswich Regis describes as one of his biggest regrets as he classes that Albion side under the stewardship of Big Ron Atkinson as the best he ever played in.
When asked about his greatest memory as a Baggie, Regis recalls with fondness the swashbuckling 5-3 victory over Manchester United. The highlights below show a cracking game that has long gone down in Baggies folklore as one of their greatest ever victories, Regis was immense and along with Tony “Bomber” Brown , a young Bryan Robson (yes future Man Utd & England Captain), and the pace of Laurie Cunningham ripped United to pieces in breathtaking fashion.
All in all Regis would make 301 appearances for the Baggies scoring 112 goals. After leaving the Hawthornes in 1984 Cyrille would go on to play for several other Midlands clubs including Coventry, Villa and Wolves before finishing his playing career in the lower leagues with Wycombe and Chester. If evidence was ever needed as to Cyrille’s special place in the hearts of the Albion faithful it came in 1993 when he was plying his trade for Wolves, the Baggies most hated of Black Country rivals. Regis would come on as a second half sub and was given a standing ovation by all four corners of the ground. It’s safe to say that this was the first time ever Baggies fans applauded a Wolves player, and will more than likely be the last.
The three degrees
Its impossible to cover the Legend of Cyrille Regis without mentioning “The Three Degrees”.
During Cyrille’s time at West Brom he would team up with two other black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Baston to form what commonly became known as the three Degrees, with the name deriving from the popular three piece vocalist group of the time.
All three were top players in their own right, Cunningham an immensely talented winger who would go on to play for Real Madrid, and Baston, a powerful centre back who played out from the back with consummate ease. Three black players playing together in the late 70’s and early 80’s was quite a big thing at the time, and sadly the talented trio had to put up with disgraceful racial abuse and constant booing from the terraces, with Regis even receiving death threaths after his call up to the England squad.
All three showed great dignity and strength to ignore the mindless fans who directed such vile abuse their way and continued to put in top class performances week in week our regardless. It was not all negative however and the trio enjoyed the trappings of the footballers lifestyle, living it up at every opportunity in their downtime. There is little doubt that the Three Degrees were trailblazers for a young generation of young black footballers and for that they will never be forgotten. So much so that plans have been announced for a statue to be erected in West Brom town centre.
Life After Football
Since retiring from the game Cyrille initially worked in a variety of coaching roles before taking up a role as a football agent with the Stellar group. Along with his wife Julia, Cyrille was heavily involved in various forms of charity work. After the tragic death of Laurie Cunningham at the tender age of 33 in a car accident, Regis was hit hard by this tragic turn of events and admitted that him and Cunningham had been involved in a similar car accident just a couple of years previously on the way home from a party from which they luckily escaped. This experience would cause Cyrille to seek solace in Religion and would become a born again Christian. In 2004 he was voted West Brom’s all time cult hero winning 65% of the vote and in 2008 he was awarded an MBE for services to Football.
On January 14th 2018, it was announced that Regis has sadly passed away aged 59 after suffering a cardiac arrest. His time on earth may have now passed, but the memories of him will live on, especially in the hearts and minds of West Brom fans everywhere.
Cyrille ‘Big C’ Regis, a true West Brom Legend. Rest in peace.
Check out some of his finest moments in a Baggies shirt below
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