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Cyrille Regis MBE

Nicknamed "Smoky Joe" and "The Big C", Cyrille Regis is a legendary black footballer.

Born in the then French Guiana in February 1958, he moved to England with his family in 1963. After training as an electrician, he joined West Bromwich Albion from Isthmian League part-timers, Hayes for £5000 in May 1977. Scoring twice on his debut at the age of 19 in the League Cup on 31st August 1977, he also scored on his League debut against Middlesbrough later the same week.

Regis was eligible to play for France or England and made his debut for England’s under-21 team in 1978. Winner of the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in 1979, he went on to win 6 under-21 caps, 3 England B caps and 5 full international caps. He became the first black captain of the England under-21s against Denmark in September 1982. 4 of his full England appearances were in 1982 and the fifth was in 1987.

A strong running centre forward with explosive pace and a powerful shot, he made 237 League appearances for West Bromwich and scored 82 League goals before moving to Coventry City for a fee of £250,000 in October 1984. Regis helped Coventry to win the FA Cup for the first time in their history in 1987, starring in their 3-2 victory over Spurs at Wembley. He made 238 League appearances before joining Aston Villa in 1991. Regis moved on to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1993, Wycombe Wanderers in 1994 and Chester City in 1995, before retiring through injury in 1996, aged 38. He scored over 200 goals in over 700 League and Cup games throughout his career.

Regis played for Albion at the same time as fellow black players Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham. Together they were given the nickname "The Three Degrees" by their manager Ron Atkinson.

Since retiring, Regis became reserve team coach at West Bromwich from 1997 to 2000, and has since become a football agent. He continues to be an inspiring figure and is a positive role model to young black players, sharing his experience of racism in football and the associated challenges with them.

He recounts managing to remain determined to succeed despite the racism during his early days of playing football,
"The racism was quite abhorrent but I turned a negative into a positive. I chased harder and played harder, I wanted to score goals and win points."

"Back then, you'd have thousands of people screaming "nigger, nigger lick my boots" at you. And the authorities just said "disgraceful" and did nothing. Nothing happened for years, until the late 1980s with the Kick Racism campaigns".

When selected to play for England, he received a bullet through the post with the threat, "You’ll get one of these through your knees if you step on our Wembley turf."

“How could I fight back? Through my talent,” says Regis.

In June 2008 he was awarded an MBE in the Queen's birthday honours list.

Sources:

'Smokin' Joe: Cyrille Regis: 25 Years in Football' book by Tony Matthews

'Samba in the Smethwick End: Regis, Cunningham, Batson and the Football Revolution' book by Dave Bowler and Jas Bains

'Colouring Over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain' book by Phil Vasili

'The History of Black Footballers in Britain' exhibition by Phil Vasili

All available for loan from the Football Unites Racism Divides library

and www.cyrilleregis.com

Cyril Regis
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