9.2.1958 – 15.1.2018
If George Curtis was the Sky Blue player of the 60s and Tommy Hutchison the player of the 70s, then Cyrille Regis was a strong contender for the City player of the 1980s. Cyrille was a talismatic centre-forward who was adored by Coventry City fans of all ages during his seven years at Highfield Road and was a key player in the Sky Blues' 1987 FA Cup triumph. His death this week at just three weeks short of his 60th birthday has shocked the football world but especially the fans of his two favourite clubs, West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City.
Strong, quick and direct, Cyrille had an excellent first touch and a habit of scoring spectacular goals, powerfully running at defences before unleashing thunderous shots from either foot. He had a strong aerial presence too and many of his goals were headers. He was a true centre-forward who led the line with passion and bravery prepared to take a battering from a tough defender as well as the vile racial abuse from the terraces.
Born in Maripasoula in French Guiana, Cyrille's family moved to the UK in the early 1960s and he grew up in West London, not far from Wembley Stadium. West Brom spotted him playing for non-league Hayes and at the age of 19 he moved to the Hawthorns for a £5,000 fee. He made an instant impact, scoring twice on his debut in a League Cup tie with Rotherham and four days later, like something out of Roy of the Rovers, he scored against Middlesbrough on his league debut. Within a short space of time he become a fixture in an Albion side that included two other outstanding young black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson.
Eighteen goals that season and the same number the following season when, with Ron Atkinson in charge, the Baggies finished third in Division One saw Cyrille gain international recognition. In his seven years at the Hawthorns he built a formidable reputation as a goalscorer winning four England caps and narrowly missed going to the 1982 World Cup finals. The Sky Blues crossed paths with Big C several times in that period and two games are not fondly remembered by City fans. In October 1978 Atkinson's rampaging Albion side took a more than useful City team apart at the Hawthorns, winning 7-1 with Cyrille scoring twice. Then, in 1982, Dave Sexton's young City side travelled to the Hawthorns for an FA Cup sixth round tie and Cyrille scored the first goal - one of his screamers – in the 2-0 win. That year he was voted second in the PFA Player of the Year award behind Kevin Keegan. His haul of five England caps was poor reward for years of brilliance and he would have won more but for the outstanding form of Trevor Francis and Paul Mariner and later Gary Lineker, and if he had played for more fashionable clubs.
Cyrille admitted in his autobiography that the years 1983-86 were spent in the wilderness. He lost form in a struggling Albion side, had off the pitch problems and his career had stalled when City manager Bobby Gould paid £250,000 for him in October 1984. His first two seasons at Coventry were disappointing as first Gould, and then Don Mackay used him as target man and his goal return was poor. He almost joined Bordeaux in 1985 and under Mackay there were stories that City were trying to unload him for £40,000. In his first season City had to win their last three games to avoid relegation and in the final game he finally came good, scoring twice (a powerful header and a scrambled effort). There were always glimpses of the old Cyrille , for example he equalled the club's individual scoring record by netting five goals in a League Cup game with Chester. After John and George took over in 1986 Sillett insisted they played to Cyrille's strengths – playing on the deck and getting him to hold the ball up and play off and around him. Immediately City looked a different proposition, the successful partnership with Dave Bennett was formed and the club enjoyed their best season for a long time. Cyrille netted 16 goals including a memorable 90th minute winner against Tottenham in a 4-3 thriller at Christmas but this was only the prelude to a memorable FA Cup run.
Cyrille described City’s 1987 FA Cup win as the greatest football day of his career and his role in that famous team was vital. He scored in the 3-0 win over Bolton in round three and then in the sixth round he set City on the way to a famous victory by scoring at the Kop end against Sheffield Wedneday at Hillsborough. Lloyd McGrath and Dave Bennett did the spade work in the centre circle and a one-two with Benno saw Cyrille take off like a greyhound with the Wednesday defence trailing in his wake. As Martin Hodge the Owls goalkeeper came out Cyrille, from the edge of the penalty area, let fly and the ball rocketed into the net.
His form that season was so good that he was recalled to the England squad and gained the last of his five full caps. Critics said he did not score enough goals but he made many for others purely with his physical presence and the fear he induced into defenders. Whilst John Sillett was in charge Cyrille was guaranteed a place and his post playing career seemed assured when John gave him and Trevor Peake coaching roles. However in 1990 when Sillett was sacked the new manager Terry Butcher wanted change. Several of the '87 boys were let go and in May 1991, to the surprise and disappointment of the fans, Cyrille was given a free transfer, a decision which turned out to be premature.
Ron Atkinson, by now in charge at Aston Villa, realised that Cyrille had more to offer and signed him. The move gave him a new lease of life and he was a first team regular. Then in May 1992 Cyrille scored a goal against City at Villa Park that, but for Notts County’s late winner, would have sent his old club down. After two years at Villa he joined Wolves on a free transfer and later played briefly for Wycombe Wanderers and Chester. He then took up a coaching role at West Brom but quickly recognised that coaching wasn't for him and moved to become a very successful player’s agent. In this role he mentored some big names in the game, passing on sensible advice to young players making their way in the game. In 2008 he was awarded the MBE for his services to the game and for his voluntary work.
The firm bonds of friendship and camaraderie between the players and management that helped carry the team to success in 1987 are as strong as ever and they met regularly. Their next get together will have a sombre atmosphere.
When the Former Players Association was formed eleven years ago Cyrille was one of the first to join, enthusiastic about meeting up with former colleagues, and he has been a great supporter attending most Legends Days. I often bumped into him in the Legends Lounge and was always struck by his warmth and kindness and his special presence. He never said a bad word about anyone and would engage positively with everyone he came into contact with. When he started talking, quietly mostly, about the game and players he was compelling and you hung on his every word. For his young clients his words and wise advice must have been invaluable and inspiring. Since becoming a born-again Christian following the tragic death of Laurie Cunningham in 1989, religion had played an important role in his life.
There were no signs of impending health problems when I last saw him in the autumn, in fact he looked fitter than most men half his age and that makes the news of his death all the more shocking. City fans will mourn him today but at the same time celebrate the passing of a great footballer and a great man. In Latin Regis means 'of the king' and Cyrille lived up to his surname on and off the field. To Coventry City fans he will always be a true King.