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Football legend and Christian Cyrille Regis
Tributes have been paid to football legend and committed Christian, Cyrille Regis, who died from a suspected heart attack on Sunday (January 14), aged 59.
The former England international, who played for West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Coventry City, scored the BBC Goal of the Season – 1981/2, that knocked Norwich out of the FA Cup in the fifth round that season (watch it again here).
Back in 2008, Cyrille told a Norwich audience at the city’s Salvation Army Citadel, how the death, in a car crash, of his great friend and fellow international Laurie Cunningham, came as a dramatic wake-up call about the purpose and meaning of life.
Cyrille, who spoke candidly about his former indulgent lifestyle, also told of his deep questions following the road crash, 20 years ago. He sought out friends in the Christians in Sport group – and eventually resolved to leave his "old ways" and to become a convinced Christian.
In November 2008, Cyrille received an MBE from the Queen for services to the voluntary sector, international aid and football.
Cyrille was one of the first black players to achieve stardom in the English game. The former WBA striker said: "History will say that we broke barriers but at the time you just want to play football and stay in the side. Looking back on it there was a whole sea change."
"You understand the impact that your status has and how you can change lives and inspire people purely because of your position."
Born in French Guiana, Cyrille's parents brought him to London at the age of five. In his teens he showed exceptional ability as a football striker as a part-time professional, and was spotted by famous Albion scout, Ronnie Allen. He joined West Bromwich Albion at the age of 19, which launched his professional playing career where he made 610 league appearances and scored 159 league goals over a 19-year period.
After he joined Albion, his career blossomed as he resolutely fought to eventually become an English international – this in the face of considerable taunting and abuse from football crowds when there were only three black players in the first division, and all at WBA.
Speaking in Norwich in 2008, Cyrille told of his early friendship with Graham Daniels in the Christians in Sport organisation, and how he came to personal faith in Jesus Christ. "Today, this is the foundation of my life," he said. "In day-to-day challenges, I am energised by Bible reading and prayer.
"The death of my dear friend Laurie Cunningham, when he was playing for Real Madrid in Spain, acted as a real 'wake-up' call for me. Especially as two years before Laurie died, he and I were in a very similar incident in Spain, but we walked away with our lives.
"By developing my relationship with Jesus through prayer, meditation and application, my faith grows deeper. My spiritual journey continues daily and I'm forever thankful for God's provision and faithfulness."
Christians in Sport General Director, Graham Daniels, said: “Cyrille was an outstanding footballer but much more importantly an outstanding man. His courage as one of the first famous high profile black footballers meant that he became a role model which has changed the canvass of professional football. His faith in Jesus Christ, which he arrived at after the death of his close friend Laurie Cunningham, became a fantastic encouragement to many elite sportspeople to consider their relationship with the God who gave them their talents. The man was a giant in his generation.”
Read our previous story about Cyrille Regis.
Pictured top is a giant picture at WBA's Hawthorns ground of Cyrille Regis scoring the goal of the season against Norwich City in the FA Cup in 1982. Picture by Getty Images.