20th Sep, 2018

SPECIAL FEATURE: Cyrille Regis: 'The King Lives On', by Coventry City author

Editorial Correspondent 1st Mar, 2018 Updated: 1st Mar, 2018

By Jonathan Strange (writing exclusively for our Cyrille Regis pull-out supplement, out today).

CYRILLE Regis, magisterial in moment and name, launched himself towards the far goal.

He devoured the field, sucking it into our eyes as we looked down from the Leppings Lane stand.

Exchanging a one-two with Bennett, he strewed defenders around him like confetti before unleashing a shot that burst past Hodge into the Sheffield Wednesday net. 1-0 and the Sky Blues were on the way to their first FA Cup semi-final.

It was unthinkable in 1987 that the ideals of the great old competition would ever be diminished.

Coventry’s FA Cup success inspired the community; Regis and his teammates galvanised a whole city.

Cyrille saluted, repeatedly jabbing the air, yellow shirt highlighting the colour of his smile. It was a characteristic, rampaging Regis goal.

The man had a very rare presence, both on and off the field.

He engaged with you. Strikingly handsome with rounded features, his eyes would fix on yours. He was listening. And he did not simply bat back a penny-in-the-slot response. He considered each question as if for the first time.

I recall seeing Portsmouth play Millwall in 1968. Much of the pre-match talk was about the visiting debutant, Frank Peterson.

Peterson may have been tall or short, bearded or bald, scored a lot of goals. The curiosity was not on account of his car or his favourite pop record but because of one thing, his colour. He was black, and black players were almost unknown in the British game.

It is difficult to conceive of the extent of the prejudice and abuse to which Regis, Cunningham and Batson and the coming generation of coloured players was subjected.

Cyrille was an apostle for equality and tolerance, not just in football but beyond.

The standard he bore was one of personal example. His talent aside, it was with wordless dignity, aloofness even, that he impressed himself on all but the thickest of skulls. Sadly, to this day, some such skulls remain impenetrable.

The Regis family spent their first winter away from the Caribbean in 1963. Britain was smothered in months of snow and even the Thames froze over. The family moved from a single room in Notting Hill to Stonebridge Park, a stone’s throw from Wembley Stadium.

Cyrille would reminisce about the area and about playing cricket and football in King Edward VII Park off Wembley High Road.

It was drizzling on the day of the announcement. Living opposite King Eddie’s, I lingered for a few minutes before wandering towards the stadium.

Cyrille’s name was emblazoned across it. The news was inconceivable.

Cyrille Regis was at the heart of that Coventry team, the impulse that throbbed through its veins.

He was the sorting office, his deft touch and distribution an invitation to possibility, a boomerang of initiative. He swatted a challenge, his barrel chest the armour. Then, all of a sudden, with a juggle and a bustle, he would be off on one of those coruscating runs, catapulted by awesome speed and certainty.

How absurd that a player of such refinement and finesse, of such scintillating effect, should be rewarded with only five England caps.

Opponents were relieved if Cyrille ran out of puff over longer distances. Were his qualities squandered, I wonder, by playing him more as a target man after the FA Cup success?

Such heroes are set in the youthful gallery of our memories – Oggy diving headfirst at a Leeds boot, Houchen swooping through the Wembley air, Killer thrusting the trophy aloft, all on eternally sunny afternoons. They are in an endless loop.

What a savage reminder of our mortality that Regis, so powerful and strong, should be the first to be snatched.

Cyrille Regis had a strong sense of faith. There is no end. The King may die, but the King lives on.Jonathan Strange is a lifelong Sky Blues supporter. He is the author of ‘A Tenner and a Box of Kippers: The Story of Keith Houchen’.

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