Cyrille Regis: My Story by Cyrille Regis

cyrille regis my story
ISBN: 0233003266
Date Finished: March 2018
Did I Like It? 7/10

The books Amazon Page

Cyrille’s story is an honest look of the highs and the lows of a pioneering black footballer in England (from French Guiana). The sections on racism show how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go as a society. The book starts goes back to his childhood memories and continues to talk about life post-professional football.

Click here to the index of sports autobiographies.

What I Highlighted:

The legend of my football career can be condensed into a few simple facts.

I know that transparency and openness about my mistakes as well as my successes might help others.

I believe I only ever achieved two-thirds of my potential.

Becoming a born-again Christian was undoubtedly the most important decision of my life –and the best.

Fortitude, determination, hunger, drive, the winning mentality –I had shown all of these essential characteristics. These are attributes that don’t reveal themselves when you are doing well and life seems on the up and up. When you’re struggling is when you find out who you really are.

Unprecedented racism endured, soaked up and sent back.

So I had only watched maybe half a dozen live matches before making my debut with West Brom at the age of 19.

We were lucky –fate ultimately dealt us a good hand. Others weren’t as fortunate.

Children don’t tend to tease you when you can play sport well … and you’re bigger than they are!

We went through tremendous problems but my dad never shirked his responsibilities.

I didn’t want it unsaid any longer. There’s too much of that in life.

As with any mass migrations throughout history it was fuelled by a desire to find work and forge a new life –and that is what the vast majority of people did.

Immigration from the West Indies was encouraged by the British Nationality Act of 1948,

Manual labour was low paid, so it was always a struggle for Dad –which is why, years later, he was always so keen for us to get trades, so we could make our own way in life.

To Imbert and me, this was simply a great big adventure. Neither did I have any idea about what a monumental event this was for our mum.

This was an era when it was commonplace to see signs saying: “No blacks, No dogs, No Irish”

Gradually we all began to talk in English all of the time.

We knew the park warden and he knew us, so we never had to worry about any trouble. Sadly, many of our parks are the reverse these days.

Mum and Dad always tried to bring us up in the best way possible –but we were always short of money.

They came to Britain to elevate themselves but found themselves and their children living in a dormitory.

Sport was a blessed relief from our housing problems.

I also had to learn to control my feelings. I couldn’t let him see that I too was upset. If I lost my temper he would too.

When I played professional football later, people used to notice that I didn’t seem to react to abuse or respond to a bit of verbal from a defender who was trying to rile me. It’s true that I wasn’t easily wound up, and I wonder if it stems from that time.

As a footballer, I could channel my anger into my performance. This helped relieve some of the aching sadness I was feeling.

I realize that my parents protected us from a lot of their negative experiences.

Racism, like many things, is learned behaviour.

I never had a deep-down desire to become a footballer. I just loved playing the game with my mates. I liked the camaraderie of sport, the banter and the social side.

I was also blessed with a natural ability to score goals.

I never thought of becoming a professional footballer.

My mum and dad didn’t understand football or have any aspirations for me to do well in the game.

Unlike now, older people were respected back then.

How do you teach kids to appreciate the things they have when you are on big wages and live in a four-bedroom house in a smart suburb?

When you’re poor there’s no choice.

It didn’t matter if I went out and had a skinful, it was my responsibility to get up.

If I say yes I mean yes.

Socializing was my real passion. Football was an enjoyable sideline.

Until this point football had been purely about fun. Now there was more purpose to it.

I was getting far better at what I was doing –learning from the school of hard knocks at semi-pro level, enjoying life and working hard to build a career either as a footballer or an electrician.

Also there isn’t usually much mileage in being a one-trick pony in football or any other sport. Teams will soon suss you out and adjust their tactics.

I wasn’t into watching football, I was into playing the game.

It was a good balance of youth and experience, and it was easy to fit in.

There are times in life when you know you have to test yourself and that the consequences of your actions will ultimately shape who you are and what you will be.

I knew Ronnie Allen had faith in me, and that meant a lot.

Albion’s supporters weren’t just patient with me, they were encouraging. For whatever reason, they just took to me.

The fans related to my background.

I never allowed racism to affect me personally. If you allowed it to influence your game and your thinking, they would win. I very quickly realized that the best way to fight back was to use your talent.

Fight back in the best way possible –by showing them how good you are.

Ninety per cent of your goals are laid on by other people –so thank them. Give them credit. Be magnanimous –you are just the one at the end of the chain.

I liked shooting early –it didn’t give goalkeepers a chance to compose themselves.

A draw was like a defeat to us. If we lost, it was deadly quiet.

He knew how to get on the right side of the press, and he worked hard to nurture those relationships.

The important thing was self-discipline –and knowing your limits. If you couldn’t go out and still play well on a Saturday, then don’t go.

Three black players in one team was just too much for some supporters, whose monkey chanting had even stretched to bringing bananas to hurl on to the pitch. Nothing was being done by clubs, police or the football authorities to curb this behaviour which had, frankly, been going on far too long to be dismissed as a passing fad.

I believe that deep down, every human being knows we are born equal.

I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s true that you can turn any negative situation into a positive.

As well as our strength of character and a good grounding of values, we of course had all of our team-mates’ support.

As a striker you might manufacture around 10 per cent of goals yourself, but the remainder are created by your team-mates.

We thrilled people, we put smiles on faces and we made youngsters want to play in our trademark, free-flowing style.

The fans don’t dwell on 1968 any more. It is history. Another benchmark had been laid down and the club has been taken to a new level.

It is easier to add players when you are a strong team that is doing well. You’re not desperate for players then.

Me? Well, I’d had to get accustomed to being a big football name very quickly. And I am not sure I handled it well.

Drinking was a big part of the football culture. We were young, so our bodies could cope. Training largely comprised five-a-side games. You didn’t have hours of tough technical coaching or biomechanical or physiological testing as they do today.

You still had to have a chat-up line, but it is much easier when you’re famous –and as I’ve said, it’s surprising how good-looking you become when people know you’ve got money.

Beverley was different, but I still cheated on her. It is something I bitterly regret and years later led to inevitable consequences.

I bided my time, though, and always had a feeling I’d get that call –eventually.

Seeing your children being born is one of the landmark events of your life. You can’t compare the joy of holding a child to scoring goals or anything similar, because it’s a lot better.

As a father I know that I messed up a bit. I provided for my children without question, but my lifestyle outside of the home meant that I didn’t give them the father they needed.

Successful strikers need to have composure, and you won’t have that if you are tired.

After waiting so long to get the call-up, I was determined to enjoy the moment.

If you don’t have players with imagination who can lay on chances, you don’t get a shot on goal.

… if you’re not feeling in good physical shape and not scoring goals, your confidence, enjoyment and drive will begin to wane. It’s a vicious circle –and getting out of it is tough.

As players you have to buy into the philosophy of the manager, otherwise it won’t work.

I even started to lose my hair through stress.

I still had to learn when to play with a certain amount of pain and when it is best not to play with pain.

The market, though, reflects your standing within the game.

Form is temporary, talent is permanent.

In a perverse way it showed we had character.

That is how John and George engendered team spirit. We trained together, played together and socialized together. It was great.

Overall they built up a great team spirit and instilled confidence in the players.

The golden rule was: don’t drink pints, always have halves. You’re thinking there’s a slight inconsistency there, but the aim was not to appear like lager louts by swigging out of pint glasses.

He believed we were better than we were and he encouraged us to think that too.

But it was fun because we were encouraged to express ourselves. To get my confidence back and to enjoy playing and going to training again was a wonderful feeling.

When you are getting caned in the press, you have to have belief in yourself, and that came flooding back.

Players could tell each other off and –because of the social dynamics –it wasn’t taken amiss.

Hit it true and hit the target –it’s as simple as that.

It was all about mental strength now. Physically I was finished –and I wasn’t the only one.

I always did my best to stay on an even keel –you try to avoid getting too high on the highs or too low on the lows.

You don’t realize what football means to a community until something like that happens.

This is what you go into football for –to put a smile on people’s faces and to be part of something that is special and rare.

My wilderness years could have destroyed me. It could have been the end of my career –and it was quite precarious at times.

You find out much more about yourself when things are tough and you are under fire. That’s when you discover if you have fortitude, perseverance, mental strength and character. Have you got determination? Have you got drive? Have you got the winning mentality? Do you really believe in yourself? Can you handle the pressure?

When you are not quite on form you need to focus on doing the basic things well, so your form will return.

The club always came first. Regardless of whether one of the kids or Bev was ill,

Playing at the top level can cause real problems for relationships.

More questions came flooding in. What is the most important thing to you? What is life all about? What can you take with you? And where do you go, if indeed you go anywhere?

Is there life after death? Where is God in all of this? Is there really a heaven and a hell? I had fame, money, cars, etc, but these things did not seem that important. It raised the question –what can I take with me? My search for the answers to those questions would ultimately change my life.

Three things helped to change the course of my life: first, Laurie died at the young age of 33. All that talent unfulfilled…Second, my son Robert was now nine years old and my daughter Michelle was six…The third thing that changed my life was that I knew my marriage was on its last legs –and I wanted to do everything I could to try to save it.

All the things I had done, and I could still get a clean slate.

…I knew deep down that I needed to change my life and felt that only God could help me to change.

What I had failed to change on my own, I knew that, with the help of God, I would change.

I didn’t disassociate myself from my team-mates, I just modified what I did.

I had become a Christian, my priorities had changed, and I now felt a sense of freedom that liberated me –hence the impact on my performance that day.

By now I was 36 and had been able to extend my career by looking after myself.

If you say you will do something, do it.

The football pitch was my escape from the pressures of everything else going on in my life.

When you’re so passionate about what you do, how can that be work?

You have learned to be consistent and how to handle the big occasion.

I had to think harder to outwit defenders. I couldn’t explode with pace anymore.

Looking back, although I had a long career I feel I only achieved 65 per cent of my potential.

I am proud of what I did achieve. I was just dissatisfied that I didn’t achieve more.

You only realize what you should or shouldn’t have done with hindsight –in the thick of things you just follow your instincts. I was in a comfort zone. And to realize your full potential, you have to be out of your comfort zone and continually stretched.

You’re not thinking: I’m going to leave a legacy, break a glass ceiling and be remembered as one of the pioneering black players who made that possible. Only history has shown that this is what actually happened.

When your career finishes you can feel as if you are a nobody.

Your body gets used to this level of activity over a number of years. Suddenly it has to cope with a more sedate lifestyle –so it is easy to put on the pounds.

You need to have a real passion for it so you can improve. I just didn’t enjoy it enough.

I love negotiating on behalf of my players, ensuring that I get the right deal for them

When you leave a message people tend to get back to you, because someone will say, “Cyrille Regis called –the ex-England footballer, etc.” That does tend to carry more clout than a name they haven’t heard

When Robert was growing up I didn’t put enough time into finding out what was going on in his heart.

Although Robert liked football, he didn’t love the game enough. There’s a huge difference.

It has been great to be able to support my children. I have had to deny myself material things to do it, but that’s fine by me.

Do I think the words were racist? Yes. Do I think Ron is a racist? No.

That one comment has marred his many achievements in football.

With the many mistakes I have made in my life, I am the last person to judge him.

Giving my time and turning up at charitable events costs very little but does a lot of good.

I am a stickler for punctuality.

No man or woman is an island or can achieve any one thing purely by themselves. The input of others is always required, which is why it is important to remain humble, with your feet firmly planted on the ground.

One’s life is never complete. We just move from one phase to another…

Have a vision for your life, set goals and aim high. Life is for living. You may make mistakes or fail, but there is always a lesson that you can learn from those mistakes and failures. Try to learn the lesson quickly and use the experience to grow.

Once I decided that success was my only option and began to align my behaviour to my choices, things changed.