Abuja – English football on Monday mourned former West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and England striker Cyrille Regis who died at 59 as a role model and pioneer for the country’s black footballers.
Local media said he died of a heart attack on Sunday.
Born in French Guiana but moving to London as a boy, Regis joined West Brom in 1977 and scored 112 goals in 297 appearances for the club.
He thereafter left for Coventry in 1984, where he won the FA Cup three years later.
Regis went on to play for Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City before hanging up his boots in 1996.
Apart from being a powerful and talented striker, Regis inspired a generation of black players.
This was at a time when they were a rarity in the top echelons of English soccer and were regularly subjected to racial abuse from crowds.
“Devastated this morning my hero my pioneer the man behind the reason I wanted to play football has passed away,” former England striker Andy Cole said on Twitter.
Together with Brendon Batson and the late Laurie Cunningham, Regis formed part of a West Brom trio nicknamed “The Three Degrees” by manager Ron Atkinson.
He was nicknamed after the American female singers who visited The Hawthorns.
“Regis got five international caps but today he would get 60 or 70 at least,” Atkinson said.
“I think he was the best centre forward I’ve ever had and I’ve had some top players. But I also think he was a better bloke than a player. He was an unbelievable guy.”
Regis quickly became a fan favourite and scourge of rival defences as an explosive striker with a powerful physical presence.
His spectacular strike against Norwich City in the FA Cup won Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season award for 1981-82.
“What a man. What a centre forward! One of my earliest football memories was walking into WBA for a trial as a 13-year-old kid, seeing Cyrille Regis and being in awe of him. RIP big man,” former England striker Alan Shearer said on Twitter.
Known to the fans as “Smokin’ Joe” and “The Big C”, Regis encountered more racism as he moved into international contention.(Reuters/NAN)