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Feature

Cyrille Regis in profile

15 January 2018

As far as the Albion is concerned, the Cyrille Regis story started with the eagle eye of scout Ronnie Allen, a man who knew a thing or two about goalscoring and who was, ironically, born on this day, January 15th, in 1929.

Allen spotted Cyrille playing non-league football for Hayes and having seen him put ball, goalkeeper and a selection of defenders into the net when going up for a cross, decided there and then that here was a new number 9 for an Albion desperate for a successor to Jeff Astle.

So convinced was Allen that he told the board that if they wouldn't buy him, he'd pay the £10,000 total fee himself. The directors relented, Cyrille signed and in April 1977, Hayes had themselves some new floodlights.

Bought as one for the future, fate moved in Cyrille's direction in the summer when John Giles resigned as Albion manager and Ronnie Allen took the helm. Once Cyrille had scored a bunch of early season goals in the Central League and made John Wile's life a misery in a couple of training games, injury to Tony Brown left a spot vacant in the League Cup side against Rotherham on August 31st.

Regis was ushered into the side, scored twice, one a penalty, in a 4-0 win and instantly won over the crowd. He retained his place in the side on the Saturday when Middlesbrough came to town, a tough, rugged side.

Cyrille received the ball around halfway, turned towards goal and by the time he'd gone about 30 yards, he was dragging three – or four, or five depending on which bit of the legend you prefer – holding on to him by the shirt, the shorts, anything they could.

Never mind. He simply dragged them behind him before smashing the ball into the net from 20 yards and ensuring a 2-1 win for the Throstles. A star was born and it never diminished from that moment. It's perfectly possible that we installed a phonebox in the dressing room just for him to get changed in...

Regis was a regular in the Albion side ever after, simply getting better and better. He was the focal point of the side that reached the FA Cup semi-final that season, ending his first campaign, 1977/78, with 18 goals.

In the summer of 1978, he set off for China with the club and on that trip, under the management of Ron Atkinson, the "Three Degrees" were really born, Cyrille bonding with Laurie Cunningham and the relatively newly arrived Brendon Batson.

Between them, in the year ahead, they smashed down every stupid, lazy stereotype that existed about black footballers, dazzled the nation and spearheaded a wave of black talent that ultimately became central to our national game.

Another 17 goals followed for Cyrille in that 1978/79 season that still rings down the ages and is still the benchmark by which Albion sides are judged, the blueprint to which they are asked to aspire. It's terribly unfair for that side was filled not just with Albion legends but, as Tony Brown often says, genuine world class talents.

Things faltered after that season, yes because Cunningham and Cantello departed, but also because Cyrille missed the first three months of the following campaign, robbing us of focal point and goalscorer.

The great man was back in business in 1980/81 with 17 goals as Albion finished fourth in the First Division, then came his best individual campaign, significantly under Ronnie Allen, back as manager.

With Bryan Robson and Remi Moses following Atkinson to Manchester United – he wanted Cyrille too but didn't dare come back for him – Regis took on the responsibility of holding tings together. He smashed in 25 goals, keeping Albion in the top flight, powering us towards the semi-finals of the League Cup and FA Cup.

Finally, having scored three goals in six England Under 21 appearances and played in three B internationals too, he collected his first senior England cap after far too long a wait, coming on as a substitute against Northern Ireland at Wembley in the Home International game on February 23rd 1982.

He figured as a sub against Wales at Ninian Park in April and was named in the provisional 40 man squad for the World Cup in Spain that summer. He got his first England start in Reykjavik as England took on Iceland in a warm-up game on June 2nd but came off with a hamstring injury and withdrew from the squad, a bitter blow.

He started against West Germany he following October, lasting 80 minutes before being replaced and that was essentially that, one last England cap coming against Turkey, again as a sub, in October 1987.

By then, he had left The Hawthorns and, by his own admission, had lost his way a little. Ruthless self-critical in later life, he conceded that after that World Cup disappointment, his dedication waned a little and though he remained the darling of the crowd and started to form a handy partnership with Garry Thompson, things were not as they had been.

On September 29th 1984, he played in a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at The Hawthorns and, after a career of 297 starts and five substitute appearances, 112 goals and a million memories, Cyrille's Albion career was done.

He moved to Coventry for £250,00, something he admitted was a huge blow to his ego after being valued at £750,000 by St Etienne just six years before, but it turned out for the best in the end as he collected the FA Cup winner's medal that had eluded him with the Albion, along with that final England cap.

Shattered by the death of his friend Laurie Cunningham in a car crash in 1989, Cyrille re-evaluated his personal and professional life, got himself into as good a shape as ever and extended his career through spells at the Villa, with Wolves, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City until calling it a day in October 1996 at the age of 38.

Coaching beckoned and he was back home, back with the Albion, taking charge of the team in a caretaker capacity too before leaving shortly after the arrival of Gary Megson in 2000. From there, there was a role as an agent and a mentor, there was time as an ambassador for Christians In Sport and Water Aid and there was a well deserved MBE in 2008, though how it wasn't a peerage, God knows.

They don't make them like Cyrille Regis any more. They never did.


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