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Horace Colclough: A historic Palace career cut short by war

17 March 2021

When Horace Colclough stepped out for his England debut in 1914, he could not know that war was just months away. Marking the pinnacle of his career with every footballer’s dream, he also couldn’t know that he’d never play again due to the following years.

The name Horace Colclough may not be a household one, but for Crystal Palace Football Club, it is historic.

Colclough, a full-back, played for just five years, however in that time became Palace’s first professional England international and made club history.

Beginning his career in 1910, Colclough’s international bow came on March 16th, 1914, a little over four months from the start of the First World War. He was the 379th player to don an England shirt, the 44th from Staffordshire and the first with Crystal Palace.

The left-back started in England’s penultimate match before the outbreak of war in what was ultimately one of his last outings, due to an injury sustained while serving with the Royal Engineers.

Born in Staffordshire, November, 1888, Colclough was the second of seven children. Growing up he lived with his father, a potter’s painter, his mother, a dressmaker, his grandmother and six siblings.

In 1910, at the age of 22, Colclough signed his professional papers and began his footballing career with Crewe Alexandra. He enjoyed two impressive seasons as a right-back in the Birmingham and District League, before his move to south London with Crystal Palace.

Colclough played 88 times for the club between 1912 and 1915. Whilst deployed as a right-back at Crewe, Colclough was predominantly used as a left-back by Palace, where he took over from Joe Bulcock.

His talent was clear and the ability to play both full-back roles led to Colclough being described as one of the ‘better full-backs to be associated with Crewe Alexandra’ in the club’s 1913/14 handbook. 

The Palace man earned his England cap in a 2-0 victory over Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff. The crowd of 17,586 saw goals from Joseph Smith and William Wedlock secure the win for England, but game was not without controversy. The first-half was controlled by Wales until key man Edward Vizard (Bolton Athletic) was forced off through injury in the 40th-minute.

This was a turning point in the game. England found their way ahead through two dubious goals - the second by Wedlock being the more controversial. The centre-half appeared to handle the ball before it was played back to him in the build-up. However, this indiscretion went unnoticed and England ended the clash as victors.

Having left south London with one cap to his name to serve in the war, Colclough joined the Royal Engineers, where he reached the rank of Corporal. However, the Palace man picked up a leg injury that led to him being discharged. The origin of this is still unclear.

According to Graham Betts’ ‘England’s Player by Player’ Colclough was injured in a football match for the army, however Dutch sources suggest he was shot in the leg in the line of duty.

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After the war, Colclough had to find a less physically challenging job due to his damaged leg. He moved to the Netherlands to be head coach of Heracles Almelo in 1920, staying at this post for 12 years.

During his time, 'd'n trainer met 'n poot' ('the trainer with the leg') was able to improve the side’s professional outlook, introducing weekly meetings to discuss tactics. He also brought success by helping the club lift its first Netherlands Football League Championship in the 1926/27 season.

Colclough returned to England and, according to 1939 registers, lived in Bournemouth as a textiles salesman, with his wife Ethel who was a school teacher. He left Bournemouth in 1967 to move near his hometown in Stoke, where he passed away at the age of 87 in 1976.

Colclough is one of 13 Crystal Palace players to have gained a cap with England, with icons like Kenny Sansom, Geoff Thomas, Ian Wright and Wilfried Zaha all having played for the Three Lions during their time in south London.

Additionally, the current England manager, Gareth Southgate, was a product of Crystal Palace’s youth system. With such lineage and the club’s developing Academy, surely further England internationals will follow for Crystal Palace. But it all started with Horace Colclough, a defining name in Crystal Palace history whose career was cruelly cut short.

READ NEXT: Tough tackling, penalty protests and packed stands - Palace's first league meeting with Brighton

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