Coventry City legend and FA Cup winning goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic has paid tribute to former teammate Cyrille Regis, who passed away on Sunday aged 59.
Current Sky Blues goalkeeping coach Ogrizovic said, “I think everybody is still coming to terms with it, it’s very hard to take in. I’m absolutely devastated, because not only have we lost a teammate but a very good friend.
“My heart goes out to his wife and all of his family, it’s a tragic occurrence.”
Ogrizovic was at the Sky Blues for the length of Regis’ time at the club, joining at around the same time as Cyrille went to Highfield Road from West Brom.
“Cyrille signed shortly before I did. You could see then he was a fantastic footballer. People remember his pace and his strength, but he also had a sublime touch. He wasn’t the fittest of players actually, he could run like the wind but wasn’t blessed with stamina so playing balls for him to run onto wasn’t going to work.”
Bobby Gould signed Regis for the Sky Blues, but it was under John Sillett’s management that the striker excelled. Ogrizovic said:
“He did have his problems in the early days when we were probably too direct, but when John Sillett came in, the first thing he did when he took over as Manager was say to Cyrille ‘Look how can we get you playing to the best of your ability’ and Cyrille said playing me in behind isn’t my game, play it to feet and I’ll bring people into play.
"From that moment, John said that’s the way we’re playing and we had a passing game and we played into Cyrille. He was brilliant at holding the ball up, he brought everyone into play. But not only that he then got into the box, and he could finish with right foot, left foot and he was a really good header of the ball.
“Not only do I remember him for the goals that he scored, I also remember him for the incredible amount of chances and goals he made for other people. He was an unselfish striker, and you don’t get many of those in this day and age.”
Regis was a mainstay of the 1987 FA Cup winning side, and Oggy says that ‘Big Cyrille’ was at the peak of his powers at that time.
“He was right at the top of his game at that time, as were most of us. We’d managed to develop as a team, especially under John and George, and were playing some really good stuff. We enjoyed each other’s company, socially we were always going out and we were big friends, the whole team. That helped to develop relationships and you could see that. Cyrille knew everybody else’s game inside out and we knew his game, and I think that’s what created the side that ultimately won in 1987.
“Beyond that, he stayed for another four years. It’s incredible that we look at him as a Coventry legend, which he is, but also West Brom and other clubs will look at him as their hero too.”
At a time when black footballers were a subject of abuse from sections of supporters, Regis was part of a West Bromwich Albion side who were breaking down barriers.
“He came through as one of the first black players, and everyone talks about the ‘Three Degrees’ at West Brom with Brendan Batson and Laure Cunningham and sadly two of them are gone now,” said Ogrizovic.
“They were the talismans, the first ones and brilliant for black footballers. A lot of people have to be grateful for the trail that they blazed, because it wasn’t easy for them at that time. Cyrille was fantastic, he took everything really well and never lost his temper. He was right at the front of making those changes.
“He’s known not just locally but nationally, and internationally for all the work he’s done on and off the field.”
The world of football has been united in paying tribute to Regis, which is testament to the impact he had on the game.
“I’ve listened today to the tributes - it’s been hard at times to listen” said Ogrizovic.
“When people recall their experiences and anecdotes it’s quite heart-warming and you see the love that people have for Cyrille. It’s all really genuine because he was that type of guy.”
“He was 6 foot 2, strong as an ox, but I never ever saw him lose his cool – it would have been dangerous if Cyrille lost his cool! He was so gentle, so placid but so good on the pitch.”