By Jim Brown, Coventry City author and historian (from our 8-page Cyrille Regis tribute supplement this week)
9.2.1958 – 14.1.2018
Cyrille Regis was a talismatic centre-forward who was adored by Coventry City fans of all ages during his seven years at Highfield Road.
Strong, quick and direct, Cyrille had an excellent first touch and a habit of scoring spectacular goals. He was a true centre-forward who led the line with passion and bravery, prepared to take a battering from a tough defender as well as the vile racial abuse from the terraces.
Born in French Guiana, Cyrille’s family moved to the UK in the early 1960s and he grew up in West London. West Brom spotted him playing for non-league Hayes and at the age of 19 he moved to the Hawthorns.
He made an instant impact, scoring twice on his debut in a League Cup tie with Rotherham. Four days later, he scored against Middlesbrough on his first league start. He became a fixture in an Albion side that included two other outstanding young black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson.
Eighteen goals that season and the same number the following season when, with Ron Atkinson in charge, the Baggies finished third in Division One.
In his seven years at the Hawthorns he built a formidable reputation as a goalscorer winning four England caps and narrowly missed going to the 1982 World Cup finals.
The Sky Blues crossed paths with Big C several times and one particular game in 1978 is not fondly remembered by City fans. Atkinson’s rampaging Albion side took a more than useful City team apart, winning 7-1 with Cyrille scoring twice.
In 1982 he was voted second in the PFA Player of the Year award behind Kevin Keegan. His haul of five England caps was poor reward for years of brilliance and he would have won more if he had played for more fashionable clubs.
His Albion career had stalled when City manager Bobby Gould paid £250,000 for him in October 1984.
His first two seasons at Coventry were disappointing as first Gould, and then Don Mackay used him as target man and his goal return was poor.
In his first season City had to win their last three games to avoid relegation and in the final game against Everton he finally came good, scoring twice.
After John Sillett and George Curtis took over in 1986 they insisted the team played to Cyrille’s strengths – playing on the deck and getting him to hold the ball up. Immediately City looked a different proposition and the club enjoyed their best season for years. Cyrille netted 16 goals including a memorable 90th minute winner against Tottenham in a 4-3 thriller at Christmas.
Cyrille described City’s 1987 FA Cup win as the greatest football day of his career and his role in that famous team was vital. He scored in the 3-0 win over Bolton and then in the sixth round he set City on the way to a famous victory by scoring the first goal against Sheffield Wednesday with a powerful run and shot.
Critics said he did not score enough goals but he made many for others purely with his physical presence and the fear he induced into defenders. Whilst Sillett was in charge Cyrille was guaranteed a place and his post playing career seemed assured when John gave him and Trevor Peake coaching roles.
However when Sillett was sacked the new manager Terry Butcher wanted change. Several of the ’87 boys were let go and in May 1991, Cyrille was given a free transfer.
Ron Atkinson, by now in charge at Aston Villa, realised Cyrille had more to offer. He was a first team regular. In May 1992 Cyrille scored a goal against City at Villa Park that almost sent his old club down.
After two years at Villa he joined Wolves on a free transfer and later played briefly for Wycombe Wanderers and Chester. A brief coaching role at West Brom didn’t work out and Cyrille began a career as a successful player’s agent.
He mentored some big names in the game. In 2008 he was awarded the MBE for his services to the game and for his voluntary work.
I got to know Cyrille well through his support of the Former Players Association and whenever he started talking, quietly mostly, about the game and players he was compelling and you hung on his every word.
For his young clients his words and wise advice must have been invaluable and inspiring.
Since becoming a born-again Christian following the tragic death of Laurie Cunningham in 1989, religion had played an important role in his life.
In Latin Regis means ‘of the king’ and Cyrille lived up to his surname on and off the field. To Coventry City fans he will always be a true King.
Our full Cyrille Regis pull-out supplement can be read here