Former West Brom and England forward Cyrille Regis, who blazed a trail for black players, has died at the age of 59, the Professional Footballers’ Association announced on Monday.
Regis won five caps for England between 1982 and 1987, having been one of the stars of the Baggies team between 1977 and 1984.
The swashbuckling striker scored 112 goals in 297 appearances for Albion before moving on to Coventry, winning the FA Cup with the Sky Blues in 1987.
Along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, who joined West Brom in 1978, the trio of black players were nicknamed “The Three Degrees” after the singing trio of the same name.
“Terribly sad news this morning that footballing pioneer Cyrille Regis has died aged 59,” the PFA tweeted.
“A true gentleman and legend, he will be deeply missed. Our sympathies to his family and friends,”
Regis was born in French Guiana in February 1958 but moved to London with his family at the age of five and was spotted playing Sunday morning football by the chairman of a non-league club.
British broadcaster and West Brom fan Adrian Chiles praised the role played by Regis in dealing with racism in the English game in the 1970s and 1980s.
“In later years I was privileged to get to know him as a friend and he just didn’t carry anger with him from that time,” he told BBC radio.
“Ian Wright, a later generation of black players, said ‘we were like Malcolm X… but Cyrille was like Martin Luther King’ — Cyrille was always turning the other cheek.
“They did so much for the game and so much for the cause of black footballers.”
Former Crystal Palace forward Mark Bright tweeted: “He was more than just a footballer, he blazed a trail for every black player who followed him, an inspiration to myself and many players of my era. A humble man and a great man.”
Ex-England striker Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter: “Saddened to hear that Cyrille Regis has passed away. A tremendous striker and fine man whose legacy goes beyond the game, helping to pave a way for black footballers in this country. #RIPCyrille.”
Former England centre back Rio Ferdinand also paid tribute to Regis, tweeting: “A great man. Helped set the foundation for others. Always remembered.”