Cyrille Regis on Michael Owen, beating racism and the legendary West Brom trip to China.
THEN AND NOW: Cyrille Regis on Michael Owen, beating racism and the legendary West Brom trip to China.
Cyrille Regis was part of the generation of black players in the 1970s and 1980s who laid the way for the likes Ian Wright, John Barnes and Paul Ince.
The powerful centre-forward was a Midlands legend with West Brom, Coventry, Aston Villa and Wolves and won five England caps between 1982 and 1988.
He became a Christian after the death of his close friend and former team-mate Laurie Cunningham. He now represents players like Daniel Gabbidon and his nephew Jason Roberts with the Stellar Group.
Then: Racism was a serious problem in the late 1970s. How did you deal with it?
By the time you became a professional, experiencing racism was nothing new.
It was quite abhorrent but I turned a negative into a positive, chased harder, smashed that ball to score goals and leave with the points.
The abuse was confined to the stadium, it would have been different if it had affected my kids or my parents walking down the road or if bricks had been hurled at my house.
But that didn’t happen. I came from a generation which was given a chance in the game. A few years before, coaches and managers thought black players wouldn’t be able to play in the cold weather - there were a lot of myths and stereotypes.
By the end of the 1970s there were managers like John Bond, Ron Atkinson, Graham Taylor and David Pleat who realised black players could do well. Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and myself did well at West Brom, Garth Crooks emerged at Stoke; a lot of black players began to come through.
Now: How many goals will Michael Owen end up scoring for England?
He’s got 28 already, he is only 24-years-old so barring injury, I think he will end up the record England goalscorer.
There are people who you have to stick with even though their club form might be indifferent and he is one of them because he has been a proven goalscorer at international level since the age of 18.
It was the same in my day, I had to wait five years for my first cap because the manager wanted to stick with the likes of Paul Mariner, Bob Latchford and Kevin Keegan who had proved they could do it for England.
It can be frustrating for others who want a chance but you understand it. Michael knows how to perform on the big stage.
Then: Why did the West Brom players get so much grief for their trip to China?
We were invited to go and see The Great Wall of China and one of our players John Trewick said ‘Once you’ve seen one wall, you’ve seen them all’. He got pilloried for it but unjustly so.
People who saw the documentary don’t understand the acidic humour you get in football.
Everyone gets caned in dressing-room banter and that was a throwaway remark but it was used to show footballers weren’t able to take in the culture.
We all went to see The Wall and it was spectacular, even John enjoyed it! Personally, I did a lot of sightseeing on that tour and loved it. But there was nothing to do in the evenings and the lads did get bored. There were no pubs, no films to go and watch.
I’ve been to some great places playing football America, South Africa, China. But often you don’t have the chance to see a lot of the countries. The most you see is the high street.
Now: Do you think West Brom will stay up this season?
This is the best chance they will ever have. They have gone out and bought experienced players, and they look to have a stronger squad than Crystal Palace or Norwich. Bringing in players like Robert Earnshaw and Kanu means they have a bit more quality than they’ve had in the last couple of years.
Then: Your goal against Norwich City was voted Goal of the Season in 1982. was it your best?
The Norwich goal was in The FA Cup, on television and epitomised the way I was playing at the time.So it’s the goal I am most remembered for even though I think I did score a couple of better ones.
Against Norwich, I picked the ball up on the halfway line, ran with it and finished with a powerful shot.
But I scored one against Manchester City where I was even further out, I took the ball from ten yards inside my own half, took it all the way and blasted it past Joe Corrigan. But the game wasn’t televised so nobody can see it now!
Now: Some people might think it's strange to see a Christian working as a football agent...
I don’t see any problem. There are FIFA and FA rules and regulations to adhere to as a football agent, and if you conduct yourself properly there’s no reason why you can’t do that and be a good Christian. It’s the same as being a player, you know how to be aggressive on the pitch but stay within the rules of the game as well.
I became a Christian after the death of Laurie Cunningham (left) in a road accident.
His life was like mine, he had everything as far as material wealth and when he died it made me realise that wealth isn’t everything and I needed answers.
I’d been in a car crash with Laurie in Spain and his death brought back those memories. It didn’t affect my work life, I still wanted to stay in the football industry. I was a coach, then a football agent.
I joined the Stellar Group five months ago. I look after Daniel Gabbidon, my nephew Jason Roberts at Wigan and the company has a lot of players on their books.
Then: Where were you when you were first called up by England?
I’d won a few Under-21 and 'B' caps and was enjoying a really good season in 1981/82. I thought I had a chance and I was at home when somebody rang and said I was in.
But it was so long ago, I can’t remember who made that phone call.
I remember the game though, it was against Northern Ireland at Wembley and I made my debut when I came on for Paul Mariner with 20 minutes to go.
Now: Who will be the top midlands club this season?
I think I have a bit of respect in the area having played for a lot of the clubs there.
I think Villa will come higher than Birmingham and West Brom this year because they still have the squad that finished sixth last time and they’ve added Carlton Cole.
And there might be a bit of money to spend in January. Birmingham have bought well but at the moment the team doesn’t seem to be gelling.