Cyrille Regis, pioneering black British footballer, dies at 59

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LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: Cyrille Regis in attendance during the Sky Bet League One match between Leyton Orient and MK Dons at The Matchroom Stadium on October 12, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

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A pioneer for black British footballers, who was sent a bullet in the post after he was selected to play for England, has died at the age of 59.

Cyrille Regis, who was a striker, represented the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and Aston Villa over the course of a 20-year playing career that began in the 1970s.

He was also capped five times by England between 1982 and 1987.

The professional Footballers Association described Regis, who was widely reported to have died from a heart attack, as “a true gentleman and legend, he will be deeply missed” in a tweet Monday.

Regis was born in French Guiana but moved to London when he was just five.

He signed for Midlands club West Brom in 1977 where he had the most potent spell of his career, scoring 112 goals in 297 games.

It was here he played alongside two other black players, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson.

The trio became known as the “Three Degrees” and were frequently the targets of racist abuse and chants.

Regis described some of that abuse in a recent interview with CNN.

“The worst for me was getting my first England cap and receiving a bullet through the post saying ‘if you put your foot on our Wembley turf, you’ll get one of these for your knees,'” Regis recalled.

“But in England I think we’ve come a long, long way from where we were in the seventies,” he added.

He also described the introduction of the English FA’s version of the “Rooney Rule” — which would see at least one black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicant interviewed for future roles in the England national team system — as something that would help more black people get into football management and administration.

Tributes to Regis poured in on social media.

Coventry City, whom he helped to FA Cup glory in 1987, described Regis as a “legend” and a “hero.”

Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands region that is home to West Brom, said Regis did “so much to blaze a trail for racial equality in football and will be missed.”

Meanwhile, former Manchester United and England striker, Andrew Cole, tweeted that Regis was “the reason I wanted to play football.”

Anti-racism charity Kick It Out said Regis was “a great supporter” of its work to tackle racism in football as well as “one of the first iconic black players of the professional game.”

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