Thursday, 11 November 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 6.11.10

Cyrille Regis is a legend amongst Coventry City fans. Not only was he a member of the 1987 FA Cup winning team but he earned his place in City fan’s hearts with his skill, industry and above all the memorable goals which helped keep City in the old First Division before 1987 and made City such a strong outfit under John Sillett over the subsequent 3-4 years.

His autobiography, Cyrille Regis – My Story, was published last month and he is at today’s game with Leeds United signing copies of the book in the club shop immediately after the game. Cyrille played for Coventry City for seven seasons but freely admits that he didn’t really want to come to Coventry from West Brom in 1984 – he thought a big club was going to come in for him but the Sky Blues were the only interested party. His first two seasons at Highfield Road were a non-event and again he admits that he was not emotionally committed to Coventry until John Sillett and George Curtis took the reins in 1986. Bobby Gould signed Cyrille for £250,000 and was sacked two months later and Gould’s successor, Don Mackay, never played to Regis’ strengths but one story in the book surprised me. Apparently during Mackay’s reign City, supposedly desperate for cash, tried to sell Cyrille to Second Division Wolves for £40,000. Thankfully the City board had second thoughts and within twelve months Cyrille and City were a whole different proposition.

Cyrille speaks highly of Sillett’s role in rejuvenating his struggling career and the way Sillett changed the emphasis of the team’s game from using Regis as a target man to giving him the ball at his feet was a major factor in the club’s remarkable 1986-87 season. That season (and the FA Cup win especially) quite rightly get a lot of coverage in the book as does the post-Wembley celebrations which make modern-day footballers look like choirboys.

One major change in Cyrille’s life whilst he was at Coventry was his conversion to Christianity and the chapter dealing with his reasons sees Cyrille talk candidly about the emotional torment he went through.

The book reminded me of the phenomenal impact that Cyrille had when he arrived on the football scene with West Brom in 1977. City had a golden year but Cyrille’s emergence at the Hawthorns took the limelight away from Ian Wallace and Mick Ferguson’s goalscoring feats. The two teams vied to be the top West Midlands side that season and Albion, managed by Ron Atkinson, pipped City by one place, finishing sixth. Cyrille started the season as an unknown and finished as a First Division regular. His first appearance against the Sky Blues resulted in a 2-1 win for Albion but my notes of the game record that Regis, who had scored five goals in his first five games for the Baggies, was well shackled by Jim Holton. A year later ‘Big C’ was on the score-sheet twice as Albion hit City for seven at the Hawthorns but his finest goal against the Sky Blues was undoubtedly the sizzling 25-yarder in the 1982 FA Cup degeat at the Hawthorns, a goal not dissimilar to the one for City at Hillsborough in the quarter final tie in 1987.

He scored many other fine goals for the Sky Blues too including the winner when City won at Anfield for the first time in 1989 and one of the goals that ended the 51-year Villa hoodoo in 1988.

I have met Cyrille on a number of occasions and he is a charming man who talks knowledgeably about the game he loves. He is also a great supporter of the Former Players Association. His book is a down to earth honest assessment of his career and life, warts and all, and deserves to be a success.

Unlike many fans and media correspondents I refuse to get too excited about City’s elevation to fourth place last Saturday following the victory at Bramall Lane. There is a long way to go this season and I remind friends that the last time City were in such an exalted position, in April 2002, they managed to lose six of their last seven games, miss out on the play-offs and snatch disaster out of the jaws of success.

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