KING PETER MOURNS COVENTRY LEGEND WHO CHANGED HIS LIFE
Former Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu yesterday joined the world football family in mourning the death of Coventry City legend Cyrille Regis, a man whom the ex-Warriors talisman revealed had influenced the Blues into signing him while he was still a raw teenager.
Ndlovu told The Herald from his base in Pretoria, South Africa, last night that he had been shocked by the news of the death of the man who literally changed his life after recommending to then Coventry coach John Sillett to take him on board in 1990.
At that time, “King Peter’’, who himself would later assume legendary status at both Coventry City and the Warriors was playing for Highlanders together with his late brother Adam. Last night, Peter paid glowing tribute to Regis, who also starred for West Bromwich Albion and England. Regis, a trailblazing striker during his time, reportedly died suddenly from a heart attack, aged just 59. He had spent Sunday at his local church with friends and family before collapsing at his home in Edgbaston, Birmingham.
Since his death, tributes have been pouring in from stars across the football world and Peter joined the bandwagon in mourning the passing on of Regis. Peter, in mourning the death of Regis, described him as a brother, father and mentor who helped shape his professional career and also assisted in his adaptation to life at Highfield Road, where he would go onto become the first African to play in the English Premiership in 1992.
“I am shocked and saddened by his death. I really express my deepest condolences to his family and to Coventry City. “It is a sad loss especially for some of us who had time to speak to him, to learn from him and to interact with him on and off the field of play. I was a young boy when I first met him at Rufaro when the national team played against Coventry. I saw him again at Barbourfields when Coventry city played against Highlanders and I remember that after the game at Barbourfields he said to the Coventry coach that I think you need to take this boy, he has given us a hard time in both matches and he and his brother are worth looking at,’’ Peter said.
John Sillett, Coventry City’s FA Cup winning manager, with the help of Regis scouted Peter and Adam. Sillett explained: “We went on a pre-season tour to Zimbabwe in 1988 and played against their national side. Both Adam and Peter were playing for them. “Afterwards I said: ‘What chance have we got of getting the two of them to England? “We were allowed to bring both of them over. Eight months later I signed Peter — I wanted to sign both of them, but the board would only let me sign one of them.
“Adam went off to Switzerland and had a good career, but Peter was the most talented player I have ever seen. They were both cracking lads, and were very, very close as brothers,” Sillett said. But it was Regis who really made a telling impact on Peter and the former Zimbabwe skipper, now team manager at Mamelodi Sundowns, acknowledged as much. Regis was a model of a professional.
“He had a big impact and influence in my dream of making a professional career a reality in a short space time (eight months) after he had come to Zimbabwe I was called to Coventry City. When I arrived at the club, he was always looking out for me, and not just myself, but all the other young players there. To him there was no black or white, he made it easy for me as a young black player to settle at the club and he was always encouraging and guiding me at training.
“In fact, he was always an influence on and off the field and he helped me to adapt to a new culture and he played a big role in my development. But now that he is gone all we can have now are memories of him . . . he however, left a legacy and he put Coventry on the map and we will remember him as a father-figure and brother and I’m sure all those who played alongside him and against him can attest to that. It was a privilege working with him for three years at Coventry and may his Dear Soul Rest in Peace,’’ Peter said.
Former Zimbabwe Saints and Warriors goalkeeper Pernell McKop also mourned the death of Regis via a post on his Facebook wall. “One of my heroes in the 1980s who played for WBA and then Coventry and had the privilege to play against when Coventry toured Zimbabwe. Sad news on his passing,’’ McKop said.
Across the globe tributes poured in from different personalities including Prince William of England and Regis’ former teammates at the clubs he played for and in the national team. Former England defender Viv Anderson also spoke of his time with Regis in his tributes to the Coventry legend. We came through a time when you had to laugh the racism off or you wouldn’t make a living in football in England and no one felt that more than Cyrille Regis — a player I was so proud to call my friend.
“I remember the occasion, in 1982, when he received a bullet through the post because he happened to be black and selected to play for England. “I got a bullet, but you got nothing!” he joked, when we were together with the national team. Laurie Cunningham, who’d been picked to play for England a few years earlier, received some very unpleasant letters, too, but I escaped what those two got because I was just born to defend and kick people, which made people look at me in a different way and maybe feel less threatened.
“Cyrille displayed skill and the ability to create things on the field. He sometimes wore gloves and long-sleeved shirts and that made him a ‘fancy dan’ in the racists’ eyes. It made him someone they could hate. We would talk about this sometimes — Cyrille, Laurie, their West Brom team-mate Brendan Batson and me. It was Cyrille’s refusal to take the abuse to heart which stays with me, as clear as day, all these years on. He arrived at West Brom after two years in the non-League so he’d had a taste of exactly how difficult things were going to be.
“He talked about how we were sure of ourselves, in a way that the little people who gave out this abuse never would be. Cyrille knew that if he’d reacted to any of it — the monkey chants and other casual abuse — he’d be seen as the one with a chip on his shoulder.
“So he just got on with what he did and we didn’t even talk about it all that much. To be honest, my main objective when he and I were together in the England set-up was to avoid playing against him in training. He was so quick, powerful and strong — big shoulders and big arms — incredibly fit and so good in the air. When you’d been called up for England you wanted to impress the manager, Bobby Robson. Facing Cyrille in training was one sure way of not doing that,’’ Anderson wrote.
A devoted West Brom fan Adrian Chiles, writing in The Sun, also recalled the inspirational player he met as an awestruck teen — and who he later got to know as a friend. “It is probably sound advice to avoid meeting your heroes lest you are disappointed. But I’m so glad I got to know Cyrille. The first time I met him in the flesh I must have been about 15 years old. My dad had taken me shopping on a Sunday morning to some big wholesale place in Halesowen in the West Midlands.
“To my complete consternation, five of West Brom’s first team were in this shop promoting something. Mouth agape, I presented to Cyrille the only thing I had to hand for him to sign. This was an LP I’d just bought. So it is that I have a copy of ChangesTwoBowie signed by Cyrille Regis. It was many years before I met him again. I was at The Hawthorns, West Brom’s ground, doing a radio piece about goalkeeping with our then goalkeeping coach Nigel Spink.
“After we’d finished, Nigel said to go and have a shower. “What?” I said. “In the actual dressing room? ““Er, yes,” said Nigel. “Where else?” “I got undressed and made for the communal showers. “I turned the corner and there was my all-time hero under the water, naked. I honestly felt I might faint, but I pulled myself together — just. Hi, how are you?” I asked, with as much nonchalance as I could muster.
“He smiled, but before he could reply I heard myself blurting out: “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t the time or place, but I want you to know I’ve always loved you.” He seemed more pleased than alarmed, which tells you everything you need to know about his ability to muster grace under pressure,’’ wrote Chiles.