A hugely respected figure in the English game has died, tributes have flooded in for a man described as a “pioneer” and an “inspiration”
Tony Collins, England’s first black manager, has passed away at the age of 94, it was confirmed on Monday.
A former left-winger, Collins was also the first black player to represent Crystal Palace and enjoyed a long career in which he went on to become a chief scout at some of the biggest clubs in England.
In 2017, Collins was presented with the League Managers Association’s Service to Football award at the 25th annual LMA Awards Dinner.
On the pitch
Born in Kensington to a white mother and black father, Collins first played for local side Acton United before being called up for military service during the Second World War.
While stationed in Padua, Italy, Collins was recommended to Sheffield Wednesday after his skills were noticed during his time playing football in the army.
He would never make a first-team appearance for Wednesday, however, but went on to enjoy spells at York City, Watford, Norwich, Torquay, Crystal Palace and Rochdale, where he become player-manager.
Last year, Tony Collins joined former Watford teammate Bill Shipwright and current club captain Troy Deeney to discuss his wartime experiences.
A true hero and inspiration 💛 pic.twitter.com/wjFtFaS905
— Watford Football Club 💙 (@WatfordFC) February 8, 2021
Management and scouting
In his second season in the Rochdale dugout, Collins took the team to the League Cup final, to date still the club’s only appearance in a major final.
Collins then transitioned into scouting upon leaving Rochdale, first being appointed at Bristol City before going on to work under Don Revie at Leeds and subsequently the England national team, where he earned the moniker “Football’s Superspy” due to the detailed dossiers he would compile on opponents.
Moving on to Manchester United, Collins is credited in helping the Red Devils identify Paul McGrath and Lee Sharpe as transfer targets, before taking in spells at QPR, Newcastle, Millwall and Derby.
Tributes paid to a pioneer
Managerial legend Sir Alex Ferguson led the tributes to Collins, stating: “I was really saddened to hear the news about Tony and send my deepest condolences to all of his family.
“One of my earliest recollections of Tony was of the very impressive job he did as manager of Rochdale, beating Blackburn to reach the 1962 League Cup Final. I then got to know Tony personally when I joined Manchester United and Tony was the Chief Scout.
“As well as being a valuable, knowledgeable and respected scout, he had such an engaging personality and I always enjoyed our conversations.
“I was delighted to see Tony receive the LMA Service to Football Award a few years ago and enjoyed seeing how much enthusiasm, positivity and love he still had for the game. His family should be very proud of all that Tony achieved.”
Nottingham Forest manager Chris Hughton, whose father is Ghanaian, said: “I am so sad to hear of Tony’s passing. In my role as an LMA board member, Tony has always been an inspiration to me as I continue alongside my colleagues to campaign to see more diversity in management and coaching across the game. He will be very sorely missed.”
LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson added: “Tony was a true pioneer of the sport. He was humble, hospitable, he had tremendous insight and was always generous with his time. His passion for football was so evident when you met him and he had some remarkable stories and memories to share.
“Above all, he should be remembered and revered for his achievements on and off the pitch. He was known throughout the game for his ability to recognise and nurture talent, a skill which enabled him to have a huge impact on the lives of others. Our sincere condolences go out to Tony’s family and loved ones.”