Roberts hails late Uncle Cyrille for inspiration
LONDON, England (CMC):
Former Grenada international Jason Roberts has hailed his late uncle and English football legend Cyrille Regis as a pioneer who helped to battle a racist era in English football, and pave the way for other black players in the game.
Regis, who was born in French Guiana, passed away late Sunday at age 59 from a suspected heart attack, media reports said on Monday.
Roberts, the former Wigan Athletics and Blackburn Rovers star, said while he remembered Regis fondly as a great family man, he also had a massive impact on the development of the sport in Great Britain.
"I just remember being very proud; proud that it was my uncle out on the pitch scoring those wonderful goals, proud that he was taking on the racists, and then just having time for his nephew," said Roberts, who made 12 appearances for the Spice Boys.
"I also recall getting the sense that his impact was bigger than football. Every time I played football in the school playground, everyone wanted to be Cyrille Regis.
"At that difficult time, he showed there was a place for us in the game. He made us believe in ourselves, so how many others did he influence? If Uncle Cyrille could make it then why couldn't we?"
Regis was one of the outstanding black players of the English game. He was capped five times by England and was a legend in the league, making 241 appearances for West Bromwich Albion and 238 for Coventry City between 1977 and 1991.
However, the forward was often subject to racist abuse during his career, especially during the 70s, but overcame it to establish himself as one of the greats.
Regis later managed West Brom following his retirement and also became a football agent, overseeing Roberts's club record transfer to West Brom in 2000.
Roberts said Regis had been responsible for reviving his career especially after the blow of being released by Chelsea.
"It was never a player-agent relationship with me and him, it was just my Uncle Cyrille advising me," said Roberts.
"That went right back to the start when I was released by Chelsea at the age of 16 and I fell out of love with football.
"Cyrille was the person that picked me up again and he got me a trial at Hayes FC by convincing the coach Alan Christopher to give me a go. He always encouraged me to play at any level because you never know what might happen. How sage that advice was."
He added: "There's no chance I would have had the belief in myself without Cyrille - from the inspiration of playing the game, to feeling there was a place for me in football, to having the belief that my ability could take me as far as I wanted to go."
Regis is survived by wife Julia and children, Robert and Michelle.