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British football mourns the passing of Cyrille Regis

Cyrille Regis, the ex Aston Villa, Coventry and West Bromwich Albion forward has died at the age of 59 after suffering a suspected heart attack. At his funeral, friends and family sang “There’s only one Cyrille Regis” and “Nice one Cyrille,” in fond memory of the player who changed hearts and minds concerning skin colour.

He was one of the first of a limited number of black forwards to have worn an England shirt. This includes players the likes of John Barnes who clocked up 79 appearances; Emile Heskey (62); Jermain Defoe (57); Theo Walcott (47), and Danny Welbeck and Ian Wright who accumulated 36 and 33 appearances respectively. Cyril Regis paved the way.

His passing was marked with black armbands and one minute of applause from all players and fans in the Premier League over the third weekend in January.

The sad news has come as a big shock to all of his many friends and admirers. He was due to have taken his wife Julia, on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate his 60th birthday next month.

Nathan Dyer recalls Regis as his second father

Nathan Dyer, the Swansea forward, who Regis had taken under his wing at the age of 14, described him as his second father. Regis was his first and only agent, in what 30-year-old Dyer says was a special relationship. He was he said, his mentor. Dyer talks of his devastation, having last spoken to him just two days before his death.

EPL steps up to the mark

After the news of his death was first published, there were accusations that the football authority should be doing more to signal the passing of an iconic player. At first, it was just the players of West Bromwich Albion who were to sport armbands and give the minutes worth of remembrance applause.

However, following an announcement by Premier League officials, the entire Premier League took up the salute for the player.

The EPL described Regis as having had an important career; one which saw him play a unique role as a pioneer for black footballers’ rights and recognition in the English game.

Celtic pays tribute

It wasn’t only the Premier League who paid tribute to Regis. Many clubs in the Championship and lower leagues also paid their respects. Scottish football too paid its respects. At Celtic Park everyone in the stadium gave one minutes worth of applause prior to kick-off in the cup game against Brechin; a game that Celtic won 5-0.

At the Hawthorns ground, home to WBA, the gates were decorated with an array of floral tributes, scarves and shirts, as well as further tributes being placed on the field before the game against Everton started.

How Cyrille Regis will be remembered

When Cyrille Regis first arrived on the English football scene back in the 1970s, the verbal racial abuse of black footballers was commonplace. Having spent some time in the lower leagues trying to establish himself as a player, he was then signed by West Bromwich Albion in May 1977 for the princely sum of £5,000.

During his time with “the Baggies,” he appeared 297 times and scored 112 goals, winning over the crowd. It was during the 1978/79 season, under then manager Ron Atkinson, when Regis struck up a partnership with fellow black players Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham. They were christened “the Three Degrees” at a time when there was only one other black player in first-class football – Viv Anderson at Nottingham who played for Nottingham Forest.

Cyrille Regis will be sadly missed.