BY SIMON YAFFE
ONE of Cyrille Regis’ closest friends has told of his heartbreak over the football icon’s sudden death at the age of 59.
Former Chester City chairman Mark Guterman first met Regis when he signed him in 1995.
He scored seven goals for Chester in 29 appearances in the-then Third Division.
“He was more than just a footballer — he had a gentle dignity and charisma and I could talk to him about anything,” Mr Guterman, of Cheshire, told Sportsworld.
“It is just horrendous. He was one of my best pals and I loved him.”
Former West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and Aston Villa striker Regis was one of the first black footballers to make a significant impact on the British game in the 1970s when racism was rife on the terraces.
Together with West Brom teammates Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, Regis inspired a generation of black British footballers to take up the game.
Regis died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday night.
Businessman Mr Guterman said: “Julia, his wife, phoned me at 7.45am on Monday to tell me the news before it came out in the media. I was in tears and couldn’t speak.
“I had only spoken to Cyrille last week and he was so excited about going on a cruise with his whole family next month to celebrate his 60th birthday.”
And he revealed that Regis, a committed Christian, was a big supporter of Israel.
“Cyrille went to Israel a couple of years ago and told me he felt that the country brought the Bible into 3D,” Mr Guterman recalled.
“He was a strong believer in the State of Israel for the Jews. Cyrille believed in Judaism’s place and he had time for all religions.”
Regis also formed a close bond with Mr Guterman’s father, Henry, a prominent interfaith activist.
German-born Henry, who died in May, 2007, served as president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council and was involved with several interfaith groups.
He and his family escaped Germany in 1938 following Kristallnacht.
Mr Guterman explained: “Dad loved him and knew him well.
“Cyrille used to comment on dad’s dignity — Cyrille had so much dignity too, and they reminded me of each other.”
Such was Regis’ closeness to Mr Guterman and his father, he attended the Henry Guterman Memorial Lecture in December, 2007, and also opened, in the summer of 2011, the Henry Guterman Community Sports Centre, in Gatley, the home of South Manchester Sports Club.
Mr Guterman added: “Cyrille believed in interfaith relations and that everyone should talk with each other.
“He was interested in learning about other religions, too. Cyrille was incredibly modest about his achievements.
“People talk about the great players when they pass on, but Cyrille was also a great man — he was just a mensch.”
Regis and his wife would often stay with Mr Guterman when the latter lived in the south of France.
“People from all walks of life used to come up to him and he was great with them all,” Mr Guterman said.
“We went out for dinner together in Manchester just before Christmas and a guy came up to Cyrille in the restaurant and asked for his autograph, addressing him as ‘Mr Wright’ (as in ex-Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright).
“Cyrille just fell about laughing.”
South Manchester Sports Club chairman Johnny Davis described Regis as a “brilliant fellow”.
He said: “When Cyrille came to open the centre, he was really, really nice.
“He was a real gentleman who got involved with all the activities which were going on.
“Cyrille didn’t charge us a penny and signed autographs for everyone.
“It is terrible what has happened to him.”
Mr Davis did not rule out a minute’s silence ahead of South Manchester’s teams’ next games.