Cyrille Regis was one of my heroes growing up, and it was a shock to hear he died last week. He was a great footballer who played for one of my favourite clubs, and as one of the first professional black players in England he had a lot to put up with. For any person of colour to play top level football in the late 1970s and early 1980s meant having to endure all sorts of racist chanting and abuse from thousands of people. I watched one game (which I’m sure wasn’t unique) where he and the other black players were booed every time they touched the ball simply because of the colour of their skin. When Regis was called up by England he got hate mail including a bullet sent through the post and a letter threatening him to not dare turn out for the national team.
Because he dealt with all this, never even obviously reacting, he became a figure of hope for young black players and an example for all people in overcoming hatred and disadvantage. His death is a loss not only to football but to society as a whole.
But as much as he did all these great things in the eyes of men, the most significant thing Cyrille Regis did was to put his trust in Jesus. In 1989 he turned away from the rather hedonistic lifestyle he was living, and accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour. He said at the time that the sudden death of his friend and former teammate Laurie Cunningham had made him realise his mortality and the folly of the life he was living.
When I became a Christian as a teenager I looked out for role models who had also committed their lives to Jesus. Naturally I was overjoyed to see on the TV one day a media piece on Cyrille Regis where his Christian faith was talked about.Because of this, through his trusting in faith in the grace of God alone, I believe Cyrille Regis has gone to be with the Lord. As we study Galatians over these months, and its emphasis on grace, may we give due gratitude to God, and be faithful in presenting the Good News to others that they may take hold of it themselves and have the assurance of everlasting life with God.