Role models: Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham prepare to kick off for WBA at home to Ipswich Town in 1977. Cunningham, who went on to play for Real Madrid, died in a car accident aged just 33. *Newscom photo
Role models: Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham prepare to kick off for WBA at home to Ipswich Town in 1977. Cunningham, who went on to play for Real Madrid, died in a car accident aged just 33. *Newscom photo

Cyrille Regis has described Bermuda’s Clyde Best as a ‘giant of black football history’.

The striker, who won five England caps and enjoyed illustrious spells with West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City, will join Best for a free Q&A session with fans and budding young footballers at Bermuda College on March 28 as part of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Bermuda Foundation’s series of events to mark the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery.

The next day, he will lead Team Regis into battle against Team Best in a charity football match at Somerset Cricket Club. 

Sadly, the 56-year-old former striker won’t be playing, having hung up his boots for good two years ago.

While Best’s pioneering career as one of the first prominent black footballers in English football saw him overcome vitriolic racism from even his own fans, Regis played his own hugely-important role.

Famously part of WBA’s ‘Three Degrees’ along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, their success in the late 1970s at a time of race riots gave inspiration to a generation of black players.

And Regis was effusive in his praise for former West Ham winger Best when he talked to the Bermuda Sun about his forthcoming visit.

“For me Clyde is up there,” he said. “He paved the way for black footballers.  He is a giant of black football history in England, especially at a club that is well known for its racist attitudes in the past. To get abuse from his own fans, endure that and play on and succeed like he did just shows the strength of the man. 

“Clyde Best is right up there in my estimations as a man and a human being.”

Regis, now a football agent who advises young players on the ‘ups and downs’ of the game, says the Q&A session will be a chance for people to ask him and Best ‘anything they like’ about life as a pro.

He has a rich history to fall back on having won the FA Cup in 1987 with the Sky Blues as well as being a role model for future black players.

“It’s [Three Degrees] part of my history and it’s part of a legacy, me, Brandon Batson and Laurie who has sadly passed… he was a great player and perhaps one of the finest role models. 

“But there were other people than us three, Clyde, Ade Coker, Garth Crooks – they helped changed the landscape of football.

“Now every club has five, six black players in their side. In fact, in the Premier League there are more black players than English players.

“I didn’t think that would have happened at all when I was playing. 

“When I was playing in the 1970s you were just  focused on staying in the side — you aren’t thinking about history or the next generation, you are not a clairvoyant.

“It’s only when you look at the likes of Dwight Yorke, Ian Wright, Shaun Goater that you see how the second generation got inspired from the likes of Garth Crooks, Justin Fashanu, myself… they thought, ‘if they can do it, so can I’. It’s as simple as that.

“We had to break a lot of barriers to push through because the convention of thought was that ‘they didn’t like the cold weather’, ‘they had the talent but not the courage’, that sort of thing — and we smashed it. 

“Not just us three but people like Garth Crooks, we led the first wave of black players. A lot of managers were giving us a chance as well — Ron Atkinson, Billy Bonds, David Pleat, Graham Taylor — and I think the first generation soaked it all up in the late 70s and 80s and changed the landscape of football.”

Regis toured Bermuda back in 1988/89 with Coventry and played against local teams.

He says he sticks to ‘the gym and golf’ these days but, as an agent, believes young players often have a ‘rose-tinted’ view of the pro game.

He said: “This [Q&A] will give them a chance to open their eyes and for me and Clyde to show them what it takes to be a professional footballer — I am sure the likes of Nahki [Wells], Shaun Goater, Kyle Lightbourne and Clyde will be able to say the same thing. I’m looking forward to getting out there.”