Tony Collins is a historical figure who has been kept in the shadows of history for too long. A gunsmith and black pioneer, his contributions to the world are real but not enough people know about them. He was also one of America’s first-ever African American millionaires
Tony Collins was the first African-American to be appointed as a commissioner of a major sports league. He was also the first person to serve on both the NBA and NFL commissions.
Rochdale’s first and only major cup final was won by Anthony ‘Tony’ Collins.
The Spotland stadium in Rochdale is full with 11,123 people on April 26, 1962.
The League Cup final will be played between two clubs. After an incredible journey, Rochdale are in their first major final in the club’s history, their first opportunity at silverware.
Anthony ‘Tony’ Norman Collins, the manager of Dale, has made history as the first manager in the game to reach the final from the Fourth Division, but he is going to do something more, something that will not be able to be displayed in a trophy case.
As the first black man to manage Rochdale, he leads the team out.
If you dig a bit further, you’ll discover he’s the first black guy to manage in an English major final.
If you go through all of the archives, you’ll discover that he was the first black guy to manage in the English Football League.
Collins’ journey to the pinnacle of the game was not easy, since he grew up in London, was stationed in Italy during WWII, and then lit up the left flank for a few teams.
Only seven black managers are still in charge of Premier League and Football League teams today, but Collins was doing it over 60 years ago.
Collins’ feat of becoming the Football League’s first black manager in the 1960-61 football season should not be overlooked in a decade when support for Britain’s National Front party grew and Enoch Powell made his notorious Rivers of Blood speech.
Collins’ story has frequently been overlooked outside of the clubs where he managed or played.
Many people are familiar with the names of the first black players in Britain, as well as legends from the 1960s and 1970s such as Viv Anderson and Clyde Best, but the tale of the first black manager is less well-known.
Because of the shame of having a kid out of wedlock with a white mother and a black father in Kensington in 1926, Lou Collins thought that her parents, Kit and Wilfried Collins, would be better prepared to raise her child.
Early family life at 397 Portobello Road, which they leased, shaped a football pioneer: “He was the same as his siblings and sisters and the rest of his family, as far as they were concerned, aside from an evident difference,” Collins’ daughter Sarita recalls.
Collins referred to his five siblings as “brothers and sisters,” even though they were his aunts and uncles.
“Because they were older, they shielded him, and he had a tremendous personality and charm. He rose to the position of head boy at school, and he continued to lead throughout his life “Sarita went on.
When Collins received his call-up letter in 1944, he enrolled in the army and became Private 14735335.
Collins (middle row, left) spent three years in Naples, where he often organized football games with his colleagues.
In his unit, camaraderie was important, and allusions to where you were born or how you talked were often used against you. His skin tone was always going to be a target, but Collins made sure that didn’t last long.
Collins was a keen fighter as a young adult, and his gym trainer once begged with Kit to allow him return to boxing because there was “money in his left hand” – one skirmish later, Collins had shown that he was not to be trifled with in the army.
Collins was honorably discharged from the army at the age of 21 in 1947. Football drew him, since he stood 5ft 9in tall and was exceptionally light on his feet.
A young soldier named Ibbotson had written to Eric Taylor, the manager of Sheffield Wednesday at the time, and upon receiving the suggestion, Taylor invited Collins down for a trial.
After witnessing Collins play for the Owls, one newspaper writer commented, “One trial enough,” and the young player joined as a professional soon after.
He’d never play in the first team for Wednesday, despite the fact that he was rated talented enough by many spectators but not by the coaching staff.
Despite having an excellent connection with Taylor, his time at the club wasn’t easy, and the other coaches weren’t as receptive.
Players only had one pair of boots at the time, and Collins’ were too small for him. Despite requesting a different size, he was never given one, resulting in excruciating discomfort in his feet and the loss of toenails.
“We all know why Tony was treated badly; in retrospect, it’s evident. He was the only one who had to deal with it “Sarita explains.
“He’d never claim it was because of his skin color, because he didn’t want it to be an excuse.”
Due to the terrible agony and lack of prospects, York City was relegated to the Third Division North.
Collins moved on to Watford, Norwich, Torquay, and Crystal Palace after York, becoming the first black footballer to play for the Eagles in 1957.
In June 1959, he signed with Rochdale, his last club as a player, and it was there that he began his coaching career as ‘Football’s Master Spy.’
Collins was persuaded by colleagues to apply for the vacant role when manager Jack Marshall moved to Blackburn.
He had won the respect of his white comrades, which was not easy for a black guy in white British culture at the time.
“He had a powerful guy, but he was a gentleman,” Sarita says. You wouldn’t dare to cross him; he was as tough as steel.
“He didn’t pull any punches and told it like it was, which is why he was able to remain in the game for so long. People demand choices and specific actions, and that’s exactly what he provided.”
Collins accepted the £1,250 pay and became the Football League’s first black manager on September 5, 1961, when he started full-time at Rochdale.
He guided the team to their only major final in club history in under a year, but Second Division Norwich proved too strong, winning 4-0.
Only one other team from the fourth division has reached the League Cup final since then, with Bradford City losing 5-0 to Premier League Swansea in 2013.
Collins, a dissatisfied strategist, drew inspiration from Brazil and continental Europe, trying 4-2-4 and 3-3-1-3 systems, but a lack of funds limited him to the cup final.
When Keith Alexander took over at Lincoln in 1993, he was dubbed “the first black manager in the Football League” until Collins’ contributions were recognized.
Splits on the board, financial troubles, and various opinions about how the club should be handled were all issues that plagued 2021 Rochdale in the 1960s.
This started to show up on the pitch. Rochdale almost missed promotion to the Third Division in 1964-65, but due to 21st-place performances in the next two seasons, the club had to be re-elected back into the league.
Collins departed Rochdale in October 1967. He felt his hands were bound, there was limited recruiting, and he couldn’t utilize his tactical intellect.
But Rochdale was his heart, and he refused to leave his home on Edenfield Road, where he lived with his wife Edith and three children.
Collins’ ability to detect talent ensured that Rochdale would be his last full-time managing job.
It would be a backstage post that would raise Collins to the legacy he has today, allowing him to stay at home in Greater Manchester.
In 1968, he joined Bristol City as assistant manager to Alan Dicks. Collins would also travel on scouting expeditions around the nation, with the press finding it odd since he resided 180 miles away from the club.
He was in a terrific position; his fame was developing, and he was being called up for television interviews on a regular basis.
The scouting was paying off – Gerry Gow, Tom Ritchie, and Dickie Rooks were all examples – but, as with Rochdale, boardroom issues were a concern.
Collins was promoted to head scout at Leeds United under the legendary Don Revie, where he established a network of scouts’spying’ for him.
Don Revie managed Leeds United for eight years and won eight trophies.
“He was like a living encyclopedia,” recalls Sarita.
“He’d recall everything that occurred in any game, and I’ve spent countless hours in the background listening to him go over it on the phone.”
In Europe at the time,’spying’ was done in a different way. Clubs often struggled with language issues and just not knowing who their players were, but Collins saw the importance of these reports.
In his notes, he said, “One of my most fascinating visits was to Hungary.”
“It was to see Ujpest Dozsa, our European second-round opponent.” I had to go on my own and perform my work as club secretary and public relations officer.
“In Europe, we have to do it right the first time, particularly given the amount of money invested on the trip and the reward that may be on the line.”
Collins’ meticulous attention to detail helped Leeds reach the European Cup final in 1975, when they were defeated 2-0 by Bayern Munich in a flurry of disputed refereeing decisions.
Now that Revie was England’s manager, he engaged Collins’ talents on a national level as their’master spy,’ documenting match and player reports down to the least detail.
Sir Alex Ferguson (center) and his Manchester United staff with Tony Collins (top, right).
Collins went on to have second stints at Bristol City and Leeds before joining Manchester United, where he clashed with a little-known Alex Ferguson.
Collins’ Bristol City defeated Ferguson’s St Mirren in a previous encounter, as well as Manchester United’s failure to recruit John Barnes, were to blame.
After a series of smaller jobs, the domestic, European, and national spy retired at the age of 80.
Collins was recognized as a “genuine pioneer of the sport” by Howard Wilkinson, head of the League Managers Association.
“He was simply ahead of his time,” Sarita recalls of her father, who died in February at the age of 94. “When you compare that to today’s video analysis, where they can basically freeze everything and go back over and over again, he did a player report in 90 minutes.”
The inner workings of Football’s Master Spy, the Football League’s first black manager, were little known. This was his preferred method of doing business: in the shadows.
Collins’ odyssey led him from organizing wartime friendlies against POWs to European Cup finals, the closest Rochdale has ever got to winning a trophy.
Inadvertently, he became a pioneer along the road.
Tony Collins was born in North Carolina and was the first African American to be elected as a judge. Reference: tony collins north carolina.
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