There were lots of things I was going to write about today most concerning relegation or promotion or the lack of transfer activity but that was all spike when I was told the news early on Monday about the death of Cyrille Regis MBE. Now it may sound like a well-worn cliché but the news of his untimely death really did shock the football world to its core. Like everyone else I was deeply shocked, saddened and devastated to hear that such a fit man had been take at the early age of 59 especially as I had been in his company just a few weeks ago. He looked so fit and in perfect health which is why when I was told I refused to believe it at first.
Just a few weeks prior to Christmas I hosted a Q & A at the Hawthorns to publicise Ally Robertson’s recently released autobiography. The panel for the Q & A was an amazing line up of Baggies legends, Bryan Robson, Johnny Giles, Bomber Brown, John Wile, Ally Robertson Joe Mayo and the legend that is Cyrille Regis. Big C was in great form with his quiet banter and wit shining through alongside that cheeky warm engaging smile.
Cyrille was much loved and respected by not only all football fans but professional footballers from many eras and from all corners of the planet. This was due to him and his close pals Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson paving the way for every black player who followed them. In the 70’s they suffered racist abuse week in and week out due to the colour of their skin. Cyrille said the bananas thrown onto the pitches, monkey chants and even worse abuse hurt and angered him but he channelled that hurt and anger into his performance using it to inspire himself from within. That showed his amazing mental strength and courage because, let’s be honest, it would have been easier to run away or hide from that abuse or at least let it affect your performance-but not Big C- he was having none of it and defenders all over the country were made to pay. He along with Laurie and Brendan did more to fight racism in the game than any other player-he was a true pioneer at the most difficult of times
Cyrille was without doubt a great player as his 675 league games and 172 goals playing with six clubs, West Brom, Coventry, Aston Villa, Wolves, Wycombe ,Chester and five England caps over a twenty year span testifies without fear of argument. He played in all divisions pre Premier League and even had a spell in the Premier League with Villa.
However it was not just as a great footballer that he will be remembered but also as a great man. A warm, humble, grounded, quiet man that had time for everyone be they King or Pauper. No matter if he had just scored a hat-trick or been picked for England he was never ever a “Billy Big Time” what you saw was what you got. In all my 40 years broadcasting in the West Midlands area I have never heard one person say a bad word about Cyrille and neither have I ever heard Cyrille bad mouth anyone else. In fact if you ever moaned about a player to him he would always take the time to try to give you a different perspective on that player and make you think about or re-think your original perception.
I first interviewed him for BRMB at West Brom and then at Coventry and he always had time for reporters be they from newspapers, TV or radio. He took time out to speak to me at Hillsborough after Coventry had beaten Leeds United 3-2 to reach the FA Cup final. Everybody wanted to speak to him but he made sure he looked after us local journo’s such was the measure of the man.
I know his younger brother Dave who played for Blues for a while and he was rightly very proud of his big brother and said he was the same quiet unassuming person wherever he was and preferred the background to the limelight unless of course he was on the pitch when his goal-scoring exploits thrust him into the limelight. However his team mates say he was not a loud in your face player on the pitch he just got on with the business of scoring goals. I think it says a lot about how they were brought up by their parents.
Cyrille was quiet and unassuming but had a great sense of humour and loved the banter. He loved the gregarious in your face sense of humour displayed by players like Ally Robertson and Joe Mayo but it was not for him- he could not be that way it was not in his nature. I remember one night at Cielos Italian Restaurant in Birmingham where about 10 or 12 ex Baggies players of that era along with myself and Geoff Snape were celebrating something for Tony Brown. The stories and banter flowed non-stop and Cyrille joined in the laughing but not saying too much preferring to sit quietly while the much exaggerated stories were endlessly told.
I was on the end of his razor sharp wit when at a Q & A about a year ago I asked him “Cyrille you have played for the Baggies, Coventry, Villa, and Wolves but not my club Blues-why?” he replied with that lovable cheeky smile “there’s still time”.
He cared about others and did whatever he could for various charities and we at Help Harry Help Others will always be grateful for the support he gave us.
All Black players earning fortunes in the Premier League would do well to spare a thought about Big C before they take to the pitch this weekend. I would hope every single club will hold a minute’s applause and wear black armbands as a mark of respect for the man who made a massive and positive difference to the game – there are not many who can say that.
I hope the owners of West Bromwich Albion can find it in their hearts to pay the balance of the money needed to finish the Three Degrees statue. What a wonderful way to honour Big C and the wonderful Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham who also faced and beat that racist abuse and brought class to the club on and off the pitch. Erect it in the Main Car Park alongside the Tony Brown statue. What a wonderful way to celebrate the life of a man who gave so much to the club and who is revered and idolised by the fans. They I am certain would be eternally grateful if you could make this happen. Like lots of people I will miss him. RIP Big C
Birmingham Mail column Jan17th 2018.