Running towards the crowd, arms aloft, ball squarely in the back of the net. That’s how tens of thousands of West Midlands football fans remember Cyrille Regis.
Now that iconic image has been captured on the side of a West Midlands Metro tram which was today named in tribute of the West Bromwich Albion legend and his immense contribution to the game both on and off the pitch.
His wife Julia, other family members and former team mates, including Brendon Batson, gathered at the regional tram depot in Wednesbury for the naming ceremony, organised by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
Cyrille’s son Robert and grandson Riley flew in especially from their home in Los Angeles. They were joined by Deputy Mayor of the West Midlands Cllr Bob Sleigh and Cllr Joy Edis, Mayor of Sandwell.
Cyrille, who died of a heart attack a year ago this week aged just 59, blazed a trail for black players in the 70s and 80s inspiring a generation of youngsters to take up the game. He also played a key role in the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign to tackle racism in football.
Julia said: “I believe Cyrille would have been quite surprised to have a tram named after him but equally I think he would have felt humbled and honoured especially as the Cyrille Regis tram will be carrying thousands of fans of his beloved West Bromwich Albion to the Hawthorns for many years to come.
“As a family we are saddened that he is not here with us to enjoy this wonderful tribute, but proud to accept it on his behalf.”
Brendon Batson, who earlier this week received an honorary degree from the University of Warwick for his services to football, added: “Cyrille, bless him if he’s looking down he will be quietly pleased at this. You can bet this tram will be the fastest in the fleet over the first 60 metres.
“The fans getting on this tram will en1joy their journey and he will be remembered fondly not just as a fantastic goal scorer but as a great character off the field too.”
Brendon, Cyrille and fellow team mate Laurie Cunningham were famously dubbed ‘The Three Degrees’ during their time at West Bromwich Albion and are considered pioneers for black footballers, helping to break down barriers in the face of often blatant racism.
Cllr Sleigh said: “We can see the terrific legacy that Cyrille, Brendon and Laurie have left us in the exceptionally talented black players that grace the modern game.
“Cyrille also holds a special place in the hearts of thousands of football fans right across the West Midlands, not just Baggies fans but also Coventry, Wolves and Villa fans.
“It’s for these reasons we wanted to mark our appreciation in the best way we could – by naming a tram after him.”
Only two other trams in the 21-strong West Midlands Metro fleet have been named by TfWM.
In 2016 Brummie rock star Ozzy Osbourne returned to his home city to have a tram named in his honour and in 2015 the Queen opened the Birmingham city centre extension by naming a tram after Cllr Angus Adams the late chairman of the region’s transport authority who had been instrumental in getting the project built.
Cllr Sleigh added: “Naming our trams in this way seems to strike a chord with the travelling public, it means something to them.
“So we are looking at how we can name more of them, not only after household figures like Cyrille and Ozzy but also other local heroes, ordinary men and women who have gone above and beyond in helping others or in contributing to their communities.
“We are looking to announce more details about that later this year and how the public might get involved in voting for proposed names.”
The West Midlands tram fleet is set to expand to more than 60 as around £1bn is spent trebling the size of the network over the next few years.
Construction is well underway to take trams from Birmingham Grand Central to Centenary Square by the end of this year and then on to Edgbaston in 2021.
Work is also pressing ahead in Wolverhampton city centre where the route is being extended to the bus and train stations. That extension is due to open next year.
Another extension will branch off the existing line at Wednesbury and go to Dudley and Brierley Hill in 2023.
That route will help unlock tracts of former industrial land for housing and commercial development, creating new homes and jobs for the future.
The Metro will also go out east from Birmingham past the HS2 Curzon Station in the city centre, through Digbeth and on to the high speed rail station next to the airport and NEC. That is scheduled to be open in time for the planned arrival of the HS2 high speed rail line in 2026.