Cyrille Regis had 'massive' impact in England - ex-Spurs boss David Pleat
LONDON -- Former Luton Town and Tottenham Hotspur manager David Pleat has said Cyrille Regis made a significant impact on English football, following the death of the ex-West Bromwich Albion and England forward.
Regis, a pioneer for black footballers in the game when he played alongside Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson for the Baggies, died on Monday. He was 59.
Pleat -- himself an ardent supporter of black players as a manager in the late 1970s and 1980s -- first came across Regis in 1977, when he was playing for Hayes in the Isthmian League.
As reserve team coach at Luton, Pleat had been sent to watch Regis, who had been scoring prolifically, along with representatives for some of the biggest clubs in the country.
"I was on the halfway line and I walked around behind the goal," Pleat told ESPN FC. "As I walked behind the goal, the cross came in and Cryrille jumped about 10 feet high, above everyone else, and the ball cannoned off the bar. The West Brom people -- chief scout Roy Horobin and [manager] Ronnie Allen -- signed him two days later.
"He had something special. No question. Apart from that, he was a gentleman both on and off the field. He only got agitated and tough on the field when someone niggled him. He was very strong. He was a very good player. He had a terrific leap. He seemed able to hang in the air.
"I met Cyrille a lot in the last few years and, apart from being a very decent man, he was some player. He was the one centre-forward who Richard Gough, my centre-half at Tottenham, found it difficult to cope with. He was a fine man."
Regis scored 112 goals in 297 appearances for West Brom before joining Coventry City for £250,000 in 1984, helping the Sky Blues to one of the great FA Cup upsets when they beat Pleat's Tottenham 3-2 in the 1987 final.
Along with Cunningham and Batson -- nicknamed the Three Degrees by their then-manager Ron Atkinson -- Regis was subjected to racist abuse from supporters in the late 1970s.
Pleat, who managed a number of black players for Luton and later Spurs, remembers the toxic environment in some areas of English football.
"At Luton, I had seven or eight black players," Pleat said. "There was no prejudice in our group, but away from home, there were comments made. One chairman made a terrible comment -- he said he would never sign a black player. Ultimately, 18 months later he tried to sign one of my black players, who had since been capped for England.
"[Racism] must have been more prevalent. I remember one manager on the South Coast who said he would never sign a black defender. They had this stereotype that black players made mistakes, didn't like the cold weather or didn't have the heart, don't like the fight. There were certain stereotypes and phrases they used about black players."
Asked about the impact of Regis and the other prominent black players in changing English football's landscape, Pleat said: "It was massive. The more immigrant families came in [to the UK], the more they played and associated themselves with football and became very good at it. All those players, who became first-team players in the late '70s and early '80s, were important.
"Only a black person knows how it felt to be black in those days. I don't know how hurt they were when people made comments or the crowd showed ignorance. I know other prejudices but I don't know that one."
Regis, who won five caps for England, scored 62 goals in 274 appearances for Coventry. He also represented Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City. He retired from football in October 1996.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.