As fans, we seldom get the opportunity to put this proposition to the test. We don’t meet our sporting heroes, so they remain heroes. Even when we read of some particularly egregious behaviour or political opinion, they are still superstars. Our memories are of that superb goal, that home run or no hitter, that exquisite cover drive.
The exceptions prove the rule: Ali, David Ortiz, Garfield Sobers, Learie Constantine, Brian Clough, Romario.
To this off-the-top-of-my-head list, I wish to add the name of Cyrille Regis MBE.
Together with Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, Cyrille was instrumental in achieving acceptance for black players in British football. When ‘the three degrees’ first played together, some season ticket holders at The Hawthorns sent back their tickets in protest. But the football that they played, and the way that they played it, appealed to the vast majority of fans, whatever their club allegiance and in so doing contributed immeasurably to defeating racism and bigotry on the terraces.
I heard Ian Wright quoted this morning: “My generation of black players were like Malcolm X. But Cyrille was Martin Luther King”.
I know this from personal experience. I met him socially only after he had moved on from the City. He would meet up from time to time with his City team-mates in Wilde’s, where he stood apart. Not literally – he would be as much part of any conversation as anyone else present; but his demeanour marked him out.
He was tall, slim, always well-dressed and very good-looking (when I introduced him to Jill, she looked up at him and said “No wonder my husband worships you!”).
He had that air of self-confidence and calmness which the rest of us envy. He knew who he was and was content to be what he was.
He was a gentleman and a gentle man.
I am privileged to have seen him play the beautiful game so beautifully, and proud to have known him, if only a little.
Today from the every smith vaults: Many years ago, my friend Neil Bevan introduced me to the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock. It turns out that Warlock was a Satanist, sadist and shit of the first order, but this suite is exquisite. It is a piece I play often and I thank my friend for his 'heritage track'.