Tears well up in the eyes of Lurgan native Gordon Hamilton as he recalls fond memories of his friend, top footballer Cyrille Regis, who passed away last week.
And 73-year-old Gordon was not exaggerating when he described the West Bromwich Albion footballer as a legend.
Though born and bred in Lurgan and a life-long Glenavon fan, Gordon was inspired to support the Birmingham team by a neighbour who took him to matches when he was young.
“I used to go once or twice a season but these days I am going around three or four times a season,” said the Mourneview man.
Gordon became friendly with Cyrille ‘a lifetime ago’ and recalls many fond memories of the star player.
He spoke about how Cyrille turned his life around after leading a life of drinking and women.
“However Cyrille turned good living. He decided to change his ways,” said Gordon.
Cyrille became an evangelical Christian after a car crash claimed the life of his friend and former team mate Laurie Cunningham in 1989.
Gordon recalls a special event in Banbridge’s Belmont Hotel in September 2013.
“There was a Big Breakfast for Cyrille and supporters and he was speaking. I remember going to that with some friends.
“I had known Cyrille on and off for many years prior to that. I went that day and brought a photograph with me of myself and what had been known as the Three Degrees back in the day - Cyrille, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson (three of West Bromwich Albion’s black players).
“He was delighted to see the photo and had it copied.
“The next day I went with him to a wee gospel hall in Donaghcloney where Cyrille gave his testimony,” said Gordon.
The Lurgan man revealed the last time he was over to see the club play in December, Cyrille told Gordon not to stay at his usual hotel but kindly put him up in the academy where the young people train as there was a special function Gordon was due to attend after the match.
“I met up with him that day and that was the last time I had seen him,” said Gordon tearfully.
He recalled how Cyrille would often ask him to stay with him and his family rather than in a hotel, however Gordon said he didn’t like to do that.
“But every time I was over he would have picked me up from my hotel and brought me to Birmingham for the match.”
Gordon continued; “I got a shock one year in the West Bromwich Albion sports shop.
“Cyrille came over to me and asked me what I was eyeing up. I said ‘that West Brom coat’. Well he bought it for me.”
“Then a year after he heard it was my birthday and he bought me a watch.” he added.
Gordon recalled Cyrille regularly bringing him to the hospitality boxes and he organised Gordon to take youngsters on a tour of the the stadium.
Gordon also reminisced about Cyrille quizzing him over how Glenavon were doing at home.
Still shocked at the sudden passing of Cyrille who was only 59-years-old, Gordon said: “When I rang Cyrille’s house last Tuesday morning to offer my sympathies, as soon as I had said my name, the man on the phone knew who I was.”
Gordon has been very upset since hearing about Cyrille’s passing.
“We were very very close. I still have tears in my eyes yet. I was very upset about it.
“He was a trusted friend,” he said.
“He was a talented player - a real legend.”
Cyrille was one of the first black footballers to make a significant impact on British soccer.
Gordon said: “There was terrible racism towards him then and there still is racism in football today.
“He used to talk to me about it and he said it was hard but you just had to get on with the game. He said it was hard to take sometimes. It did upset him.
“When he turned good living he used to say to me ‘I will pray for the people who were racist’.
“He was a true gentleman,” said Gordon.