At 94-years-old, Tony Collins couldn’t be blamed for sitting back and enjoying retirement. With a 56-year footballing career behind him, he more than served his sport as a pioneering player, scout and manager.
Perhaps most men of his era would have put football behind them in a professional sense, but Collins released an autobiography aged 90 and, along with his daughter Sarita, took time out of his week to speak with a former club over 60 years after departing it.
Collins is widely accepted to be Crystal Palace’s first black player, joining in 1957 towards the tail end of his career. The well-travelled winger put pen to paper for Cyril Spiers’ Glaziers on £14 a week (with a £3 appearance bonus) and went on to play in 61 games for the south Londoners before leaving for Rochdale in 1959.
Shortly after joining the Dale, Collins made history by becoming the first non-white manager of a Football League side. In the annals of British footballing history, this footnote of Collins' is a significant one, but it's something he doesn’t focus on when reflecting 60 years later.
“As an older player,” he says, “you think to yourself: ‘How long have I got left playing?’ Fortunately I got the chance [to manage] while I was still playing.
“I'm very proud to have got the job at Rochdale. Just to be a manager of your own club is a great achievement. However bad you want it, most people don't achieve it - and [I was proud] to prove myself as a manager in real tough circumstances.
“I had the whole club behind me; the players wanted me to put in for the job, [departing manager] Jack Marshall did and so did the board - an unusual set of circumstances that may not present themselves again for someone else.”