The Big Interview: Regis on Villa, West Brom and impact of Big Ron
Cyrille Regis was part of two of the region's most gifted sides - Villa of the early 1990s and Albion of the late 1970s - and he admits a massive reason for the exhilarating football they produced was charismatic and gloriously flamboyant manager Ron Atkinson.
And as the modern versions get set to face one another this weekend, Regis revealed it was Big Ron's insistence on entertainment which helped nurture the pace and grace-fuelled superpowers of those bygone eras.
"Big Ron was a fan in a sense," said Regis. "His mandate was 'I want to be entertained, the fans want to be entertained and if this doesn't happen I'm not going to be happy.'
"He wanted his teams to play the right way. Many times you'd be playing a match, losing 1-0 but he'd be satisfied because you were doing things the right way.
"Other times you'd be 1-0 up and playing the wrong way and he'd come in and volley you.
"He wanted the game played with a certain style and with a lot of flair. He wanted players, in the right areas, to go and express themselves.
"He was never defensive. Wherever you went and whichever club you played, he'd say 'we're going to win this game.'
"There was never, ever talk of 'these are good, we need to hold back a bit.' Never. Not once.
"It was always about being on the front foot.
"The atmosphere that Big Ron creates in the dressing room - the culture he nurtures - you're going to have fun.
"You're going to enjoy going into work at Bodymoor Heath and playing at Villa Park. You were always looking forward to games."
But behind Atkinson's almost fan-like outlook lay a brilliant boss in the eyes of Regis who knew exactly what to do at the right times.
Sometimes he went barmy, other times he was benevolent.
Behind the shades was a psychological giant, who could survey a situation and react accordingly.
The contrast in the champagne-swilling chameleon was best summed up by matches against Sheffield Wednesday in Cyrille's first season at Villa and Manchester City in the following campaign as the team chased the League Championship.
"Big Ron was a hugely controversial appointment when he arrived at Villa," continued Cyrille. "Sheffield Wednesday had just won the League Cup and he turned around and said 'I'm not going anywhere' as they were parading the trophy - and then weeks later he went to Villa.
"Typical as the fixtures came out, it was a match at Hillsborough on the opening day!
"When we went there, there were hundreds of Owls fans just wanting to absolutely hammer Ron. They were so hostile, it was unbelievable, chanting 'Judas'.
"But Big Ron, cool as a cucumber, strided off the bus with a 'whatever' look. He got in the dressing room, did his usual thing and motivated us.
"We were 2-0 down and I got us back to 2-1 just before half-time.
"I remember Big Ron at the break, because he knew the makeup and psychology of their players, he was cool and relaxed. He didn't rant and rave and pick up the pressure because of his own circumstances. He just told us to keep playing.
"He exuded confidence and he gave off that feeling that he knew exactly what he was talking about - and that he knew the Sheffield Wednesday team.
"In the second half, we went out there and won the game 3-2. What a great start to the season and we finished seventh.
"I remember one game where Big Ron's motivational powers were incredible - but he came at from a totally different outlook.
"I wasn't playing but he always had you in the dressing room anyway. We weren't playing well - going for the title - and we were 1-0 down at half-time to Manchester City.
"Niall Quinn had scored and everyone was sitting down and knew they hadn't played well.
"The boys knew they were going to get 'the blast.' Big Ron stormed in. The cups of tea were flying, the tactics board went everywhere and he absolutely hammered everybody! Everyone on that pitch got the full works - it was vitriolic.
"I just thought 'thank-god I'm not playing!' The whole team got it! From the goalkeeper to the forwards.
"We went out and turned it around to win 2-1. Afterwards, I told Ron 'you won us that game.'
"He just knew exactly what to do at the right time.
"He was calm at Sheffield Wednesday but he left fly against Manchester City. He could judge situations on their merits.
"That's the character, the experience - he always knew what half-time needed. It's so important that managers gauge the situation because you only have 10 minutes to convey things.
"Whatever was needed, he found the right tools. That day was a massive rocket."
Atkinson also tried outrageous things to get the best out of his players.
Seeing his stars tense in the build-up to a game, he would drag musicians and comedians into the dressing room to take their mind off a particularly charged clash on the pitch.
"I remember when he brought Renee from Renee and Renata in the dressing room before the game to sing Nessun Dorma to us," continued Regis. "He would call for Nigel Kennedy to play a violin solo for the lads. Nigel gave us some ensemble.
"But that was Big Ron - he'd use anything possible to motivate us."
Regis will probably always be more recognisable in the region as a man from the blue and white of Albion.
He was a prolific scorer for the successful Baggies team of the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 1978.
But he still has a place in the hearts of claret and blue supporters of the early 1990s for his never-say-die attitude and his goal supply in that opening campaign.
He played more than 40 games that season, helping Villa to seventh place in the final table and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
He was also the club's joint leading scorer in league games, bagging 11 along with Dwight Yorke.
It's certainly an era he remembers fondly.
"It was great. It was fantastic once again with Big Ron," added Regis. "I was the first buy on a free transfer and then he plundered West Brom for Ugo Ehiogu.
"Big Ron went about building a side. That was his strength. He knew how to do it. He was a master at it.
"He got Shaun Teale, Kevin Richardson, Garry Parker. He let David Platt go and bought in other top-quality players. Look at Dalian Atkinson and Steve Staunton. He put a great side together.
"The first season we came seventh in the division. The following one we came second.
"I didn't play a great deal in that second season and we had Dalian and Deano up front.
"That Villa side was absolutely fantastic! It was brilliant. Some of the goals and performances were terrific.
"A few years ago I watched a DVD of the season and some of the moves and some of the goals were brilliant.
"We were right on to win the title but unfortunately it just fizzled out. But, let me tell you, that was one hell of a side. That was up there with the Albion side of the 70s. The Villa team that season, in terms of pure talent, was something else.
"We had Paul McGrath, Mark Bosnich and Yorkie - that's high talent.
"It was such a shame we couldn't capture the title. It just fell away.
"It reminded me of Albion in the late 70s. It was a very good Manchester United, though, that beat us to the title.
"But on a positive note, soon after, Villa won the League Cup. It was just a great period for Villa.
"There were then issues with Big Ron and Doug Ellis and he was gone and the rest is history."
But what a glorious history that will live long into the memory. Nice one Cyrille!
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