When it comes to Cyrille Regis, MOMS remembers him principally as a formidable opposition player for both the Albion and Coventry. When Regis came to Villa on a free transfer, he was in his early 30’s and thought to be beyond his best. Yet, Big Ron got him in to do a transitional job, which he did well. Here Rob Smith looks at big Cyrille’s key moments in the claret and blue…
By Robert Smith
The passing this week of Cyrille Regis was particularly emotional given everything he represented. With his quiet dignity and strength, back in the 70’s and 80’s he paved the way for black players in the face of racism on and off the pitch. He became a towering symbol of the triumph of one good man versus the hateful actions of many more.
He also elevated the likes of West Brom and Coventry to contenders, winning a memorable FA Cup with Coventry in 1987.
But what of his time at Villa Park?
As a young Holte End season ticket holder at the time, I’d like to share my own memories of the big man with those who weren’t there…..
Signing him up
Cyrille was one of Big Ron’s first signings at Villa. Despite spending his best years elsewhere, Cyrille was a player we all knew, and it signified that Villa were back in business following a poor season under Josef Venglos in 1990-91. The Wolves and Albion fans at school knew it too, making Cyrille’s signing particularly sweet.
First goal for the Villa
Few players have had a more memorable debut than Cyrille Regis. 2-0 down at Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day, Cyrille outmuscled the Wednesday centre backs to nod in a lifeline just before the break.
Villa went on to win 3-2 in front of 7,000 travelling Villans. Without Cyrille’s goal, I doubt we’d have done it.
He was unlucky not to have an even better start, hitting the post against Manchester United on his home debut a few days later, in front of a full house at Villa Park.
Through the goal drought
Despite Cyrille, goals were hard to come by at Villa Park that season, mostly due to an injury to Dalian Atkinson, which left only a teenage Dwight Yorke to partner Cyrille up front.
They did well at first, with Yorke scoring in five consecutive league games in the autumn 1991 ( a club record) but it proved too much for Yorke by spring, and Villa scored only once in eleven games between January and March (including a particularly ridiculous 1-0 home defeat by QPR, where we must have had 20 shots on target).
The only highlight during this time was Cyrille, who was tireless despite his veteran status.
He also scored one of the best headed goals I’ve ever seen at the villa, an excellent looping header in a 1-0 win against Oldham.
He was an excellent example to the younger players. I wonder how much Yorke in particular, learned from Cyrille during this time, and whether this helped him become a Champions League winner a few years later?
All droughts come to an end, and few ends were more spectacular than our game at White Hart Lane in April 1992.
2-0 down after 20 minutes, Villa quickly rallied and were level by the break. Spurs continued to threaten and Gary Lineker missed a hilariously bad penalty before Cyrille made his mark.
Firstly, facing away from goal, he flicked the ball over his marker and ran into the box, before setting up Dwight Yorke who put Villa in the lead. Then after a decent solo goal from Tony Daley, the big man characteristically held off half the Spurs defence before firing home for a memorable 5-2 Villa win.
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Facing his former club Coventry in the final match of the 1991-92 season, Cyrille scored what was until very recently (yeah, thanks Sheffield Wednesday) the quickest goal I’d ever seen at Villa Park. Heading home a Steve Staunton cross after only 28 seconds to send the Holte End into delirium.
He could have helped relegate his former club that day, but the football gods smiled on him and Luton’s defeat at Notts County (yes these teams were all top-tier back then) saved them.
Despite finishing joint top scorer with Dwight Yorke on 11, Villa were moving quickly towards a title chasing team at the time and Cyrille found his opportunities limited in 1992-93, due to the new and exciting partnership between Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson.
He still made 17 appearances though, scoring his final top flight goal in a 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest in Autumn 1992.
With a younger Cyrille up front, I’ve no doubt we’d have finished the season as champions of the first Premier League title.
Cyrille was sold to Wolves in summer 1993, and remains the only Wolves player to receive an ovation on returning to the Hawthorns, showing the esteem he still held there, following his performances in the late 70s and 80s.
Regis remained active in the community after retiring, and received an MBE in 2008.
He even found time to be guest of honour at the annual carol concert at Hednesford Town just before Christmas, I really wish I’d gone along to shake his hand and thank him for his service to the Villa.
Rest in Peace Big Man, it was a pleasure to have seen you play.