Former West Brom and England striker Cyrille Regis died after suffering a heart attack on Sunday. He was 59.
Regis, a French Guiana-born who debuted for the Three Lions in 1982, was only the third black player to be capped by England, after Viv Anderson and Laurie Cunningham.
The former striker is often hailed as a pioneer for black footballers in England, at a time when racism was a common feature in Britain’s stadiums.
He is considered by many as a key figure in the transition from an all-white entertainment to the multicultural competition that the Premier League is today.
A French Guianan in the UK
Born in 1958 in Maripasoula, a rural town in French Guiana, Regis moved to England along with his family when he was five.
Before joining West Bromwich Albion in 1977, Regis worked as an electrician and often played non-league football for the former London-based club Hayes.
In the 1976-77 season, he was spotted by West Brom’s chief scout Ronnie Allen, who recommended the First Division club to sign him.
The Baggies and the Three Degrees
The Baggies signed Regis for £5,000, and along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, the French Guianan made up the “Three Degrees”, an unusual trio of black players playing for the same team.
Often, the trio were subject to racial abuse from fans around Britain.
“What shocked me when I joined West Brom was the volume. The noise and level of the abuse was incredible,” Batson said in Paul Rees’ book “The Three Degrees”.
“At times, it was almost like surround sound in the grounds. But it was such a regular occurrence, you almost got used to it.”
A statue of the trio was unveiled at West Brom in 2013.
Speaking about the monument, Regis said: 'We were part of that first generation of black players in this country and I'm sure that if you ask any second-generation player they will tell you they were inspired by Laurie. That's why the statue will be so important.'
The trio was a pillar for West Brom’s 1978-79 campaign, season in which the team finished third in the league, only behind European reigning clubs Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Cunningham, a left winger and the first black player to represent England at any level, moved to Real Madrid in 1979. Tragically, he died in a car crash in 1989 in Madrid. At the time, he was playing for Rayo Vallecano.
Batson, a right back, was capped three timed for the England B team. Nowadays he has a career in football administration.
Over 297 appearances with the Baggies, Regis scored 112 times. In 1984, the striker was signed by Coventry City.
He is often remembered by the Sky Blues as their first and only player to score a winning goal at Anfield, in their first ever league victory over Liverpool in November 1989.
From 1977 to 1984, Regis won five caps for England. His final international appearance was in 1987 against Turkey at Wembley. The game ended 8-0 for the home side. Despite his prolific goal-scoring at club level, Regis never managed to score for the Three Lions senior team.
Before retiring in 1996, Regis also played for teams like Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In 2004, he was voted as West Bromwich’s all-time cult hero in a BBC Sport poll. Along other acknowledgements, Regis was appointed member of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2008.
Rest in Peace Cyrille
After the news of his death, tributes for Regis have poured in from across the world of football.
“Thanks #cyrilleregis for paving the way for all of us #cyrilleregisRIP,” tweeted the former Dutch midfielder Ruud Gullit.
“Tragic news about Cyrille Regis. Helped me a lot when I was younger and was a great man! My thought are with his family at this sad time. RIP Cyrille,” wrote Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale.
Tragic news about Cyrille Regis. Helped me alot when i was younger and was a great man!— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) 15 January 2018
My thought are with his family at this sad time. RIP Cyrille pic.twitter.com/liZLds3Jvy
“In all my decades of covering Midlands football, there has been no figure more admired or loved among we reporters than Cyrille Regis. He scored goals we dreamed of while lying in the bath, routed the racists, respected the fans - and smiled. Always. RIP,” declared former BBC Sport reporter Pat Murphy.
“Devastated this morning my hero my pioneer the man behind the reason I wanted to play football has passed away. My heart goes out to all his family RIP Cyrille Regis,” tweeted Manchester United legend Andrew Cole.