A pioneer, but first a footballer: how West Brom celebrates Cyrille the King

At the iron gates of the Hawthorns, fans gathered to share memories of Cyrille Regis, the first black hero of English football

As any pub quiz regular will tell you, the Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion since 1900, is the highest league football stadium above sea level in the UK. It stands 551ft up on a ridge west of Birmingham and all last week it was a place of pilgrimage, a city on a hill. From the moment fans heard of the death of Cyrille Regis, at 59, last Sunday, they trooped up here in ones and twos, in sleet and rain, to tie scarves and shirts to the ground’s blue-painted iron gates.

Empty football stadiums always carry the ghost of Saturdays past; you half hear the roar they are built to contain. That roar was never louder here than 40 years ago when Regis led the forward line alongside his best mate Laurie Cunningham. The eyes of those who have come to pay their respects shine with the memory of it when I ask. First they talk of Regis’s power: “He was so strong, and so quick”; “There was no stopping him, once he got into his stride.” And then they talk of his grace: “He was just such a lovely bloke, a proper gentleman.”

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