Football icon Cyrille Regis died aged 59 of a suspected heart attack on January 14, and his first manager has paid tribute to the “wonderful lad” he remembers.

Mr Regis began his career playing semi-professionally for Molesey FC in the 1975-76 season under manager John Sullivan.

He was on £5 a week, complementing his £20-a-week salary as an electrician’s apprentice.

Mr Sullivan remembers him from the early days.

He said: “He was a wonderful lad. He was just different.”

One of the first black players to make a huge impact on English football, Mr Regis became a hero to many, and tributes left since he died hail him as a pioneer and trailblazer.

Mr Sullivan spotted him playing Sunday morning football at Regent’s Park and brought him straight into the first team at Molesey.

He said: “I remember being with him and someone shouting abuse at him – horrible, horrible stuff – and after I’d dropped him off I wondered whether I’d done the right thing for the lad.

“I got stopped by the police and they offered to drive me home, I was so upset by it.”

After spending a year at Molesey, scoring 27 goals, Mr Regis went to Hayes.

Mr Sullivan said: “I never wanted him to go to Hayes. I tried every south London club, and nobody would have him – and you know the reason why in those days.”

Mr Regis went on to sign for West Bromwich Albion for £5,000 in 1977, then Coventry City in 1984, making 297 and 278 appearances for each respectively, and five senior appearances for England.

Mr Sullivan has a copy of Regis’s book, “My Story”, in which the author has signed: “To John, thank you for everything. You made all this possible. God Bless.”

In the book, Mr Regis wrote: “Sullivan never tried to change a thing about my game. He has always insisted that the player he saw on Regent’s Park was as good as the player I was when I was scoring goals for West Brom a couple of seasons later.”

He said: “He was a great lad. He really was.”