30 Jan Cyrille Regis – ‘The Icon’
An Icon – A person or thing regarded as representative or as worthy of veneration.
A word often thrown around, used to loosely, or bestowed upon individuals without perhaps being deserving of such appraisal.
In a way somewhat of a subjective superlative; however, we can all agree it is a sign of greatness or some recognition for a contribution made. With that said, of course, there are levels to this. By that I mean there are some things that are iconic that is not always that important that at the time mask our perceptions of their impact. For example, Brian Belo, certainly a reality TV icon; but in the grand scheme of things who cares?
So when we discuss Cyrille Regis who will be laid to rest today and say in passing “he was an icon”, I’d like you to take a moment to take stock of what an inspirational figure this man was.
Born in the early 90s, the black footballers I grew up with were a plethora of characters and personalities: Les Ferdinand, Michael Thomas, Ian Wright, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka, Ruel Fox, Paul Ince just to name a few. I had it pretty good. That wasn’t the case in the 1970s when Cyrille Regis was playing. Britain was not as accepting; the social landscape was far more primitive – Racism was rife.
It was heavily embedded in the social fabric of society. Imagine growing up, and one of the most popular sitcoms on television is a satire that denigrates and belittles your community?.
Love Thy Neighbour is a playful reflection of attitudes of the time. A small microcosm of the hate Cyrille would’ve faced, coming up through the ranks, screamed in the terraces, changing rooms and even away from his profession. It was a heavy price being a black footballer back then.
It often baffled me why Regis, went on to have five caps for England. Why take the high road and play through monkey noises, chants of ‘n**** n****, death threats, excrement stains on your front door.
One the the many examples of racial prejudice and discrimination at the time.
The answer was courage.
The legacy of Cyrille Regis expands far beyond football. His presence in the game helped change attitudes towards the black people in the UK. Sports, Pop Culture, Politics are all powerful components in the realms of society. Our perceptions, opinions thoughts and views are often shaped and developed by our common preferences. You’d have to be naïve to underestimate the significance of Regis becoming a professional footballer in the 1970s and 80s. That’s why it’s imperative when remembering Cyrille Regis, we do not merely placate his legacy with sweet nothings, but we remember the special impactful message, this great man’s career stood for.