Wolves' Morgan Gibbs-White on dealing with racism, and the influence of Cyrille Regis

Morgan Gibbs-White
Morgan Gibbs-White was part of the England team that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2017

When Morgan Gibbs-White was called a "monkey" during the Under-17 World Cup final three years ago, it was the second time he had been racially abused. The first had been during an English Schools national cup quarter-final.

"I think I was about 15," the Wolves forward tells BBC Sport.

"We were winning 4-0 or 5-0 and there was a heated situation. One of their players started being racist to me. He eventually got kicked out of the sport."

The alleged perpetrator of the second incident avoided a similar fate. During the match, which England won 5-2, Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster asked Gibbs-White if he had heard one of the Spanish players call him a "monkey". Gibbs-White said he had, but wondered whether he was alone in thinking that.

The incident was raised with world governing body Fifa, which ruled a year later there was not "sufficient evidence" to warrant punishment.

Gibbs-White had become a statistic - another professional footballer who had been racially abused.

During that season, anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out reported there were 304 complaints of discriminatory behaviour relating to race and faith in England. That increased to 334 the following season, and there was a further 43% increase in racist abuse alone during 2018-19.

"Racism will never stop," says Gibbs-White. "I think because racism is talked about a lot more, this is what racist people thrive off. They step out of line and try to create a scene or make a statement."

Despite that, the 19-year-old is hopeful about the future.

He adds: "With more awareness, the more it should die down. It's not fair to judge people on the colour of their skin. We're here to play football and not get verbally abused."

'Cyrille became like a family member'

During his formative years, Gibbs-White came to the attention of former England striker Cyrille Regis.

Regis, a football icon who fought prejudice during three decades as a player, was an agent at the time and had been alerted to Gibbs-White's talents by the player's father, who had become a good friend.

"He used to come and watch me a lot, all over the country," Gibbs-White says proudly. "He said he wanted to work with me and help me become a better player.

"From then we clicked - he became like a family member."

Cyrille Regis (right)
Cyrille Regis (right) played for four clubs in the West Midlands including Coventry City, with whom he won the 1987 FA Cup

Regis witnessed his protege make his Wolves debut in 2017 and progress through the England youth ranks, but never got the chance to see him lift the Under-17 World Cup.

"Losing him was tough," said Gibbs-White of Regis, who died on 14 January 2018 at the age of 59.

"He played a massive part in black culture. Some of the stories he told me… a lot of stuff, bad stuff.

"But he came out of it. He was the benchmark, the role model to look up to - he told me how he dealt with things."

Once his playing career finished, Regis spent time helping charitable causes both at home and abroad, and when he died the Cyrille Regis Legacy Trust was launched.

The charity, which aims to empower young people, has a mentoring programme in partnership with six West Midlands football clubs.

Julia Regis, Cyrille's widow, says mentoring was "part of his job that he loved most".

"Giving back was an inherent part of his character," she says. "He was always active within his community and saw it as his responsibility to use the platform he had to inspire, encourage and help others."

Gibbs-White believes he was fortunate to have had Regis' support.

"I feel like he'll be proud of the way we're dealing with the problem of racism," he adds.

"It's out there more because we are speaking about it more. I think that's a good thing."

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