Death crash a wake-up call for football legend
By Mike Wiltshire
2008: Football legend and former England international Cyrille Regis told a Norwich audience recently 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, the 50-year-old 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 West Bromwich Albion 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.
With his powerful physique and displaying great mental determination, he earned many titles, including "Smoking Joe." Chants from the fans singing "Nice one, Cyrille" resounded around the stadiums of Albion, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Wolves.
Speaking in Norwich at a "First Sunday" meeting at the Salvation Army Citadel, 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."
Football legend Cyrille Regis.