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Cyrille Regis (1958 – 2018), pioneering black soccer player in England

(Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Paved the way for a generation of young black players in England

LONDON (AP) — Cyrille Regis, a pioneer for black soccer players in England who endured racist abuse while forging a career with West Bromwich Albion and playing for England's national team, has died. He was 59. 

Regis died Sunday after a heart attack, the West Brom Former Players' Association wrote on Twitter. The Professional Footballers' Association, which honored Regis with its Young Player of the Year award in 1978, said Regis was a "great pioneer for equality."

English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said Regis "broke new ground and paved the way for a generation of young black players in this country during the 70s and 80s." 

Born in French Guiana in 1958, Regis moved to London with his family when he was 5. He did not come through the youth ranks with a professional soccer club and was spotted playing for non-league teams around London. 

"He came into football the hard way and never lost his passion for the game," widow Julia Regis said in a statement. "He was a role model for so many because he always treated everyone he met with kindness and respect. The world has lost a very precious treasure." 

West Brom signed Regis in May 1977 for 5,000 pounds. He made a spectacular debut a few month later, scoring twice in a League Cup match against Rotherham. 

Along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, Regis was part of a trio of black players at West Brom nicknamed by manager Ron Atkinson as "The Three Degrees" — after an American singing group of three black women — at a time when English soccer was blighted by racism. 

A statue of the trio called "The Celebration" was unveiled at West Brom four years ago. Regis told the BBC in 2013: "We were part of that first generation of black players in this country." 

He was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1978. Regis made his England debut in 1982 and went on to make five appearances. 

He scored 112 times in 297 appearances for West Brom before moving to Coventry in 1984. A playing career that also included stints at Aston Villa and Wolverhampton ended in 1996. 

After retiring from the game, Regis worked as an agent for the Stellar Group, the company which represents Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale. 

"Cyrille was a wonderful person to work with and his death has left everyone in the company and the players he represented with a great sense of sadness," Stellar chief executive Jonathan Barnett said Monday. "Our deepest condolences go out to Julia and all of Cyrille's family and close friends. Cyrille was a pioneer in British football and hugely respected by everyone in the game. He was a role model to his young clients and a genuinely lovely man." 

We invite you to share condolences for Cyrille Regis in his Guest Book.

Written by ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer.

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