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Regis blazed a trail through storm of terrace racism

Cyrille Regis, who died on Sunday aged 59, was one of the first black stars in English football at a time when racism in the country's stadiums was loud and crude and widespread.
While institutional bias, lack of coaching opportunities and allegations of players making racially charged comments on the field remain issues today, the footballing backdrop to the start of Regis's career involved race hatred of an entirely different magnitude.
An electrician who was spotted playing non-league football for London club Hayes, Regis made his debut for Midlands side West Bromwich Albion in 1977.
Together with defender Brendan Batson and winger Laurie Cunningham, burly centre-forward Regis made up what became known as the "Three Degrees", a rare trio of black players in the same team, named after the soul music trio of the era.
"What shocked me when I joined West Brom was the volume. The noise and level of the abuse was incredible," Batson said in Paul Rees' book "The Three Degrees".
"At times, it was almost like surround sound in the grounds. But it was such a regular occurrence, you almost got used to it.
Unlike the tightly controlled, all-seated and expensive, match-day experience of the modern Premier League, football in England in the late 1970s was far closer to the working class street culture of that time.
The standing terraces produced passionate support but also violence and a space for racists to insult black players, not in isolation, but often in a massed choir of thousands.
At some clubs, hooligan gangs were closely linked to the openly racist National Front political organisation. At many more, black players were subjected to booing, monkey noise chants and sometimes the throwing of bananas.
There was no talk of stopping games, no fines or punishments and very little in the way of institutional support for the black players.
"We’d get off the coach at away matches and the National Front would be right there in your face," Batson said.
"In those days, we didn’t have security and we’d have to run the gauntlet. We’d get to the players’ entrance and there’d be spit on my jacket or Cyrille’s shirt. It was a sign of the times. I don’t recall making a big hue and cry about it. We coped. It wasn’t a new phenomenon to us," he said.
Despite operating in such an environment, Regis delivered on the field for Ron Atkinson's Albion team and winning five caps for England. But the honour of being called up for his country in 1982, four years after Viv Anderson became England's first black player, exposed Regis to even more aggressive racism.
With newspapers publishing reports of an imminent call-up, Regis received an anonymous letter, sent to the club's ground, The Hawthorns. In cut-out letters from old newspapers, it said: "If you put your foot on our Wembley turf, you'll get one of these through your knees".
Inside the envelope was a bullet.
"The letter soon got binned, but I kept the bullet as a reminder of the force of anger and evil some people had inside them back then," Regis said in his autobiography 'My Story'.
"For the rest of my playing days, it was also a motivation, a reminder that these people were not going to stop me," said Regis, whose role as a pioneer for black players in the game remained a source of deep satisfaction.
As a player, Regis stood out for his powerful performances at centre-forward and his former manager Atkinson believes he should have had more recognition by his country.
"I have been lucky to work with some great players but whenever I am asked to name my best team, he is always the centre forward in it," Atkinson, who somewhat ironically resigned from his TV pundit role in 2004 after making a racist comment told the West Brom podcast 'Woodman Corner'.
"He only got five international caps (but) in today's market he'd be worth 60 or 70 at least."
"And he was an even better bloke than he was a player."








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