Former Rochdale manager Tony Collins dies, aged 94

Date published: 10 February 2021

Former Rochdale manager and player Tony Collins has sadly died (Monday 8 February) at the age of 94.

Tony, who became the first black manager in English league football and led Dale to the League Cup final in 1962, started his professional career at Sheffield United.

Born in Kensington in 1926, Tony also played for York City, Watford, Norwich City, Torquay United and Crystal Palace before signing for Rochdale in 1959.

After just one season at Spotland, he was appointed as player/manager – becoming  the first black manager in English league football. He continued in his dual role for a short time before focusing on managing the club until 1967.

During his seven years at charge at Dale, Tony led the club to the 1962 League Cup Final, one of only two League Cup final appearances by a fourth-tier side.

In addition to his roles as assistant manager and caretaker manager at Bristol City, he worked as a scout for a number of clubs, including Leeds United and Manchester United.

In 2017, Tony was recognised on the Football Black List when he was the recipient of the Keith Alexander award and was also presented with the League Managers’ Association (LMA) Service to Football Award at the 25th LMA Annual Awards Dinner the same year.

In a statement, Rochdale AFC said: “Our thoughts are with Tony’s son, daughters and family at this sad time.”

A minute’s silence was held in his memory prior to Tuesday’s League One fixture against MK Dons.

Paying tribute to Tony, LMA Chairman Howard Wilkinson said: “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.”

LMA board member, Sir Alex Ferguson CBE said: “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.”

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