Jack The Lad: Farewell to football greats

24th January 2018

Loyal supporter and website columnist Jack the Lad pays tribute to two football greats who sadly passed away in the last week.

When I’m deciding what to write about each week I normally try to tie in the subject to who the Swans are playing in their upcoming matches.

However, this week I've made an exception because I couldn't let Cyrille Regis' sad death pass without remembering one of my favourite ever players.

Many of the moving tributes paid to Regis since his death have celebrated the pioneering role he played in the 1970s and 80s for future black footballers.

These were decades when the relatively few black players who made it to the very top in the British game were subjected to abuse and provocation from “supporters” of opposition sides.

Regis not only had the dignity to rise above the abuse and threats - which included being sent a bullet before his England debut - he silenced the chants with the absolute brilliance of his play.

And that is what made Regis one of my favourite players. It didn’t matter to me whether Cyrille Regis was black or white, English or Welsh, played for West Brom or the Swans, he was one of my favourites because he was just fantastic to watch.

There were few finer sights in the late Seventies and early Eighties than Cyrille Regis combining his immense power and skill to run at opposition defenders before winding up that frighteningly powerful and unerringly accurate shot of his.

Whenever I hear his name, a picture instantly flickers into my mind of him scoring the 1981-82 BBC Goal of the Season in an FA Cup tie against Norwich City.

With his back to goal just outside the centre circle, he took the ball on his chest and turned instantly to beat one player, brushed off the challenge of another before he charged off towards goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot which ripped into the roof of the net from 25 yards.

When the Swans reached the old First Division back in 1981, everyone remembers them kicking off their season in unforgettable style with a 5-1 hammering of Leeds United in the first game of the season.

They backed that result up with a 2-1 midweek away win at Brighton, giving the newcomers a 100 per cent record after two matches

But on the second Saturday of the season, it was big Cyrille who brought the Swans back down to Earth with a crash when he hammered home a Hawthorn's hat-trick as the visitors were given a top-flight reality check in a 4-1 defeat.

When the sides met again later in the season, I was looking forward to seeing Regis play in person for the first time, albeit with some trepidation after the first match. It was the classic case of wanting to see a quality player in action, but not wanting him to perform well against your club!

On the night, I was delighted that Regis more than met his match in the shape of the Swans' Ante Rajkovic.

It was a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

In the blue corner, you had Regis, built like a middleweight boxer. But in the red corner, you had the equally formidable form of the Swans’ Bosnian-bruiser Rajkovic ‑ a cult hero of our own, who took a backward step to absolutely no one.

I will always remember one particular moment during the match when Regis and Rajkovic set off in pursuit of a through ball meant for the Albion striker.

The pair met shoulder to shoulder, bouncing off each other several times, like a couple of demolition derby bangers, as they tried to get the upper hand in their race for the ball, which eventually ran harmlessly out of play.

Even better was the fact that the Swans ran out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from the late Chris Marustik, Alan Curtis and another England international striker Bob Latchford.

So, a pretty good evening in all, I got to see Cyrille Regis play in the flesh and the Swans picked up the points.

Another reason that warmed Regis to me was where he had come from. He was an electrician playing for non-league Hayes when he was spotted by West Brom.

Seeing players like him coming through the non-league ranks gave players (and talentless dreamers like me!) hope they could make it in the game despite not being picked up by professional clubs at a young age.

The footballing world lost another great this week after the passing of Jimmy Armfield.

Although I don't remember Armfield as a player, and very little of his time as a manager, you don't captain your country, win a World Cup winners medal, manage a club to the European Cup Final and become a hugely respected football pundit without having an exceptional talent for the game and an in-depth knowledge and understanding of its complexities.

Rest in Peace Cyrille Regis and Jimmy Armfield.