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Cyrille Regis – and what Jesus meant to him

Crowds stood for a minute’s applause and players in Premier League games last weekend wore black arm bands to honour Cyrille Regis, the West Bromwich Albion and England footballer and Christian who died recently aged 59, following a heart attack.

A powerful striker during his playing days, Regis was a pioneer for black players and was seen as a role model for generations of footballers after him.

His book My Story (published by Andre Deutsch) came out in 2010, and INSPIRE carried this interview by George Luke:

“Nice one, Cyrille!”  It's hard not to think of that catchphrase as I sit in a comfy chair opposite a legend of English football.

The word 'legend' has been somewhat devalued these days, but Cyrille Regis has certainly earned the right to be called one.

Together with his West Bromwich Albion team-mates Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson ('The Three Degrees' as manager ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson dubbed them) he was one of the first black players to play at the top level of English football.

“It's been a fantastic journey,” says Cyrille, who has recently chronicled that journey from a little village in French Guiana to international football stardom in his autobiography, My Story.

“Over the years, I've grown as a person and my character has changed. I've met some wonderful people and learnt some great lessons in life. But my greatest experience has been coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour.

“Despite all that I've achieved and everyone I've met, meeting Jesus is definitely the most important, most uplifting and best thing that's happened in my life.”

Cyrille was training to be an electrician and playing part-time in the Isthmian League when West Brom paid £5,000 for him in 1977. Within two years he was a household name.

He went on to play for Coventry City, Aston Villa, Wolves, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City. He won five caps playing for England, but was very nearly poached by France early in his career (the country of his birth is still under French rule to this day).

The main catalyst in Cyrille's coming to faith was the death of Laurie Cunningham in a car crash in Spain in 1988. Ironically, Laurie and Cyrille had both been in a car crash in Spain two years prior to the one that ended Laurie's life.

“The car we were in rolled over two or three times, but we came out alive,” recalls Cyrille. “But when Laurie died, it struck me like a sledgehammer.

“We had all the trappings of what the world says success is – cars, money, fame, houses – but it hit me that he'd left everything behind. I wondered if I died two years later, where would I be?

“These things didn't matter if I couldn't take them with me, so my perspective had to change. What was the most important thing to Cyrille Regis? I started to seek those answers.

“About a year later, a friend asked me if I was a Christian. I said I believed in God but wasn't a committed Christian. He asked if I would mind if a friend of his came round and talked to me. I said I wouldn't mind.

“Two months later, another good friend of mine called Colin Day came to my house and we spoke about how I was feeling. He told me about how Jesus loved me; how he died for my sins … and I gave my life to the Lord.”

Today, Cyrille is a respected football agent and was awarded an MBE for his services to football in 2008. He says the player he respects most currently is Ryan Giggs. (“He's seen it all, he's still driven and playing great football.”)

He believes that racism in British football has been successfully dealt with – although he would like to see more Asian players and black managers. Away from football, Cyrille is a campaigner for Water Aid.

“I always tell young players I work with to fall in love with football, rather than with the lifestyle,” he says.

 “There's a massive, massive danger – and I see it so many times with talented players – of falling in love with the cars, the girls, the late nights, the 'bling'. They get sidetracked and lose focus – and within two or three years, they're out of the game.

“Everyone's got their own particular journey, and it's filled with highs and lows. You're going to meet people who will believe in you; who'll pick you up when you get knocked down.

“You'll make great friends and have great experiences. But the main thing in anybody's walk is to know the Lord. Period.”

A private funeral is due to take place on Tuesday 30 January, and an open-air service for fans and the football community to join the family will be held at The Hawthorns in the East Stand at 11am following the funeral.

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