Tony Collins

Tony Collins made just 10 City appearances in his only season with City. A journeyman player, one of many to pass through our club's doors, he went onto have a lasting impact on the game

Tony Collins was born in Kensington, West London in 1926 to a white mother and a black father who wasn't named on his birth certificate. Adopted by his grandparents, it was a difficult upbringing although he excelled at football and was expecting to sign for Brentford when he received his call up papers.

After the war, he joined Sheffield Wednesday but didn't play a first team game in 2 seasons before he joined City in the summer of 1949. He barely faired any better with City, playing just 10 games and scoring once as City finished bottom of Division 3 North. He made his City debut on September 3rd 1949 in a 1-0 defeat at Tranmere, that appearance made him City's first ever black heritage player. He had to wait until October 22nd for his next appearance when he scored his only City goal in a 3-2 win at Chester. There were rumours of discontent between him and club management.

A free transfer to Watford, vying for bottom spot in Division 3 South followed in August 1950. At Watford, his career picked up, local newspaper reports noted he was watched by an England selector and that Watford wouldn't sell him for 12,000, It wasn't until 1973 and Barry Lyons that City paid that much for a player.

He later played for Norwich, Torquay (where he and his wife opened a B&B), Crystal Palace and Rochdale. In total, he played 337 games and scored 48 goals before retiring from playing in 1961.

By then, he had had a season as Rochdale's player manager, the first black manager in the Football League. As manager, he took Rochdale to The League Cup Final during the next season. After 7 seasons in charge, he resigned in September 1967, aged 41.

Later, he worked as assistant manager to Alan Dicks at Bristol City before becoming Don Revie's chief scout at Leeds United and later England. He also scouted for Brian Clough at Leeds as well as Ron Atkinson and Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Many of the infamous dossiers that Don Revie relied upon were the work of Tony Collins. Paul McGrath and Lee Sharpe were 2 of the players he scouted for Manchester United.

His back room work earned him many plaudits, as evidenced by the managers who employed him and was once described as "a pioneer" by Roy Hodgson.

In July 2016, his biography, "Tony Collins: Football Master Spy" was published in a book co-authored by his daughter Sarita and Quentin Cope. The title being a nod to the nickname he earned in football circles as one of the game's shrewdest talent spotters.

In 2017, Tony Collins received the "Service to Football Award" at the League Managers Association Awards.

He was the first black heritage player at the first 5 clubs he played for (City, Watford, Norwich, Torquay and Crystal Palace). At his next club, Rochdale, he became the first black manager in the Football League.

Sadly he died in February 2021, although in his final year he was still imparting his wisdom with Watford's youth team. Sir Alex Ferguson offering a particularly heart felt tribute.

More (1): Facebook: Tony Collins Football

More (2): BBC (October 2021)

City's Black Pioneers

City's first black players were:

  • Tony Collins (signed from Sheffield Wednesday) became City's first black player when he made his debut on 3rd September 1949
  • Peter Perry, full signed from Rotherham played for City during the 1962/3 season (City debut 22nd September 1962). Part timer Perry had a footballing career in the Army and was a member of his home town's Rotherham's side that reached the first ever League Cup Final in 1961
  • Johannesburg born Gerry Francis (City debut, 21st October 1961)
  • Hackney born Dennis Walker (signed from Manchester United, City debut, 22nd August 1964)
  • Next was another South African born, ex Leeds player, Albert Johanneson (City debut, 15th August 1970).

Unfortunately, due to prevailing attitudes of the time, little is known about the early years of Collins (at least until his 2016 biography) and Walker, both were born to white mothers and black fathers. Both Francis and Johanneson travelled from South Africa in their early 20s seeking a career in professional football.