14th Aug, 2018

One word for Cyrille Regis? 'Class.' Moving tributes heard at Coventry Cathedral

Les Reid 4th Mar, 2018 Updated: 5th Mar, 2018

Speaking movingly from the pulpit, 1987 FA Cup winning teammate Greg Downs summed up Cyrille Regis in one word: “Class.”

To others he was just “dad”.

Son Robert brought laughter at Coventry Cathedral today with his recollection of his father’s greatest career achievement: “I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t there!

“I was seven. I thought everybody’s dad played football.

“I remember riding a bike and auntie Cynthia came out and said, “Your dad’s just won the FA Cup.’

“I just said, ‘Great, I’ll see you later!”

He later added, in words re-enforced by his sister Michelle’s recollections of a “funny, stylish, wise and generous” father and grandfather: “Nobody’s dad was like him. Everybody loved him. I was honoured that he was my dad.”

To widow Julia, he was both husband and a fellow Christian. She said: “He was physically strong as we’ve heard but he was mentally strong and emotionally strong.

“He had the ability to get back up when he was knocked down whether as a footballer, in his career as an agent, or personally.

“I’ve never known anybody who gets through issues as quickly as Cyrille did. He didn’t live in the past, but in the present and future.”

She spoke of how people would describe him as being “transformed” when he became a born-again Christian while playing for Coventry in the late 1980s. “He wanted everyone to know what it meant for him to have Jesus in his life. It wasn’t a preach.”

She spoke of the private Cyrille Regis who would “read the Bible marking scriptures that meant something to him” and added: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the love that has been shown since his passing.”

To others he was an important figure in the struggle against racism in 20th century Britain.

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, in introducing the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said both the Archbishop and Cyrille “represented the vitality of black Christians throughout our land.”

He added: “They’ve both played in their different ways a part in facing up to the evils of racism in British society and defeating them through the building of their gifts, through the strength of their characters and God’s love.

“I’ve found myself moved by his life and death. I didn’t know him but his life has moved me.”

He turned to generations of the Regis family and pledged he would do “everything in his power” to help Cyrille’s legacy “put right” a lack of black Christians in “positions of influence and leadership” in the church.

Coventry’s Lord Mayor Tony Skipper said: “We commit ourselves to build on what he achieved so that every barrier that prevents our citizens achieving their true potential can be removed.”

The very reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry, spoke of everyone taking “inspiration” from an “extraordinary man” who did so much on and off the field to promote “diverse communities” and opportunities for all.

To others, the former West Brom, Sky Blues and England talismanic centre-forward was a brave, skilful and powerful footballing hero.

As the Archbishop led applause in his honour, impromptu choruses rang around the impressive congregation in Sir Basil Spence’s post-war architectural masterpiece and symbol of unity, peace and reconciliation.

“Cyrille, Cyrille, Cyrille,” “There’s only one Cyrille Regis” and “Nice One, Cyrille.”

To others he was not just a teammate but a friend.

As 1987 left-back Greg Downs, now a police officer in Norwich, said: “If I could describe Cyrille in one word it would be ‘class’. He was class on the pitch in the way he dealt with himself and others, and he was class off the pitch. In one of Cyrille’s own phrases, he was ‘class all day long’.”

He added: “In football it’s often said you don’t make friends just acquaintances because you move from club to club.

“But at Coventry City we weren’t acquaintances, we were and are friends and I thank Cyrille because he was part of that.”

In recalling Cyrille’s efforts with re-unions and Former Players’ Association events, he added: “It was important to Cyrille that that togetherness stayed with us.

“All our teammates would say Cyrille was not just an acquaintance. He was our friend and always will be.”

Earlier Greg spoke of encountering the man with “muscles on muscles” who was the big “name” when the former Norwich full-back arrived at Coventry in 1985. He added: “But he wasn’t like that. He was calm, polite, articulate and caring. He was a natural leader. He wasn’t a ranter and raver. When he talked, you listened.”

To others too, he was a close and dear friend. Former West Bromwich Albion teammate Brendan Batson, one of the “Three Degrees” of pioneering black players, said: “Cyrille said he found that kindred spirit in the Coventry camp.

“We felt we were part of Coventry’s success, because we had lost three semi-finals. And those bitter memories helped him galvanise the team that had a lot of leaders in it.”

Several of Cyrille’s other former teammates were present including 87 stars Dave Bennett, Keith Houchen, Micky Gynn, Trevor Peake, Steve Ogrizovic and Nick Pickering. Team boss Mark Robins and captain Michael Doyle represented the current team alongside club officials.

Among hymns and prayers, Coventry’s own gospel singer Sandra Godley belted out beautifully the Sky Blues Song, while Neville and Christine Staple and their band recalled the late 70s/early 80s era of Cyrille and The Specials with the song “A message to you Rudy.”

It ended the 90-minute ‘Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Cyrille Regis MBE’ – a fitting tribute and true Coventry send-off to the man who meant so much to so many.

It could be summed up in one word. Class.


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