Tony Collins (footballer)

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Tony Collins
Personal information
Full nameAnthony Norman Collins [1]
Date of birth(1926-03-19)19 March 1926
Place of birth Kensington, London, England
Date of death 8 February 2021(2021-02-08) (aged 94)
Position(s) Left winger
Senior career*
Acton United
1947–1949 Sheffield Wednesday 0 (0)
1949–1950 York City 10 (1)
1950–1953 Watford 90 (8)
1953–1955 Norwich City 29 (2)
1955–1957 Torquay United 89 (17)
1957 Watford 17 (1)
1957–1959 Crystal Palace 55 (14)
1959–1961 Rochdale 47 (5)
Teams managed
1960–1967 Rochdale
1980 Bristol City (caretaker)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Anthony Norman Collins (19 March 1926 8 February 2021) was an English football player, manager and scout, who played as a left winger. He managed Rochdale between 1960 and 1967, becoming the first black manager in the Football League and leading them to the 1962 Football League Cup Final, their only major final appearance.


Collins played professionally for Sheffield Wednesday, York City, Watford (in two spells), Norwich City, Torquay United and Crystal Palace (where he was the club's first mixed-race player), before ending his playing career at Rochdale. Apart from a spell as assistant manager (and briefly caretaker manager) at Bristol City, he latterly worked mainly in scouting for a number of clubs, including Leeds United and Manchester United, as well as for the England national team.

Early life

Tony Collins was born in Kensington, London, on 19 March 1926 to a 17-year-old unmarried white mother. His father, who was black, was not named on the birth certificate. Collins was adopted by his maternal grandparents and grew up in the Portobello Road area. A promising schoolboy footballer, he played for local club Acton United and was due to sign for Brentford until he was called up for military service during the Second World War. [2]

Playing career

During his three years of wartime service stationed in Padua, Italy, Collins was spotted in Army football matches and recommended to Sheffield Wednesday. [2] After being demobbed and returning to England, he signed for Wednesday in November 1947, but did not make any first team appearances. He made his Football League debut for York City in the Third Division North after joining them in July 1949, and was then transferred to Watford in August 1950. While at Watford, Collins was linked with a representative call-up after being watched by a selector from The Football Association, and the club chairman was quoted as saying in response to transfer speculation, "£12,000 won't buy him". [3]

After Watford, Collins joined Norwich City in 1953 and then Torquay United in 1955. He briefly returned to Watford in 1957 before signing for Crystal Palace later that year; he was the first black player to appear for Palace. [4] He joined his final club as a player, Rochdale, in June 1959. In total, Collins made 333 Football League appearances, scoring 47 goals, before retiring in 1961. [1]

Management and scouting career

At the end of Collins' first season at Rochdale, manager Jack Marshall left the club to join Blackburn Rovers. After being encouraged by his teammates to apply for the post, Collins was appointed player-manager of the Fourth Division club in June 1960. [2] [3] He was the first non-white manager of a Football League club. [5] [6] In his second season, Rochdale reached the League Cup Final, only to lose 4–0 on aggregate to Second Division Norwich City. [7] As of 2019 it remains the club's only appearance in a major final, and one of only two EFL Cup final appearances by a fourth-tier side. Despite this achievement, Collins failed to attract interest in his services from larger clubs. Gradually tiring of the demands the job placed on his time and family life, he resigned in September 1967. [2]

After leaving Rochdale, Collins worked as chief scout for Bristol City and then under manager Don Revie at Leeds United. When Revie became manager of the England national team, Collins worked with him compiling dossiers on opponents; the press dubbed Collins "Football's Superspy" when one was leaked to the press before a match against Scotland. [2] He rejoined Bristol City as assistant manager to Alan Dicks in 1976, leaving the club in September 1980 after a brief spell as caretaker manager. After a second spell as Leeds' chief scout, he served Manchester United in a similar capacity from 1982 to 1988, helping the club to find future stars including Paul McGrath and Lee Sharpe. [2] Before retiring, Collins also scouted for Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle United, Millwall and Derby County. [8]


Keith Alexander, who became Lincoln City manager in 1993, was often described as the first black manager in the Football League, until Tony Collins' achievements became more widely recognised. [2] [5] Although non-white players were a rarity in English football during his era, contemporary reports made few references to his colour, and Collins himself said he was not affected by prejudice. [3] His appointment at Rochdale also attracted little attention at the time, save for one report which described the new manager as "a coloured boy" and quoted the club chairman as saying that Collins' colour was not an issue in choosing him. [3]

The historical significance of Collins' appointment became more widely reported in 2016 as a result of the publication of Tony Collins: Football Master Spy, a biography co-authored by his daughter. [9] This led to Collins, by then 90 years old and living in a care home in Moston, Manchester, to be interviewed by BBC North West Tonight and ITV News about his life and career. [10] [11] He received the Service to Football Award at the 2017 League Managers Association Awards. [12]

Collins died on 8 February 2021, aged 94. Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers Association, described him as "a true pioneer of the sport". [13]

Management record

ClubFromToPWDLWin %
Rochdale [14] 1 June 196030 September 19673651328414936.16

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  1. 1 2 "Tony Collins". Barry Hugman's Footballers. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 White, Jim (20 October 2016). "The pioneer black manager who became Don Revie's 'superspy'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Cutler, Teddy. "What is the legacy of English football's first black manager?". Newsweek. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  4. "Palace Pioneers: Tony Collins". Holmesdale Online. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  5. 1 2 O'Hagan, Simon (5 December 1993). "Racism in Sport: When respect is the goal: Simon O'Hagan examines the barriers to pride created by prejudice". The Independent. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  6. Tobin, Lucy (28 March 2011). "Why aren't there more black football managers?". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  7. Whyke, Peter (21 February 2013). "'There are still people coming to our house for autographs 50 years on'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  8. "Clark to Crussell" (PDF). Watford F.C. Archive. Retrieved 22 February 2017.[ permanent dead link ]
  9. Statham, Nick (11 November 2016). "New book tells the incredible story of country's first black football boss". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  10. "Tony Collins: Ex-Rochdale boss relives being Britain's first black manager". BBC Sport. 19 October 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  11. Chisnall, David. "The 90-year-old football hero who made history more than half a century ago". ITV News. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  12. "First BAME manager recognised at LMA Annual Awards Dinner". Kick It Out. 23 May 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  13. "'A true pioneer': Tony Collins, Football League's first black manager, dies at 94". The Guardian. 8 February 2021. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  14. "Managers: Tony Collins". Soccerbase. CenturyComm. Retrieved 25 February 2017.