"We were aware that eyebrows might be raised because of his colour. But that makes no difference, and we sincerely hope that it will make no difference in his career as manager."
It said much about English football in 1960 that Rochdale’s chairman felt it necessary to make such a statement. Collins, raised in Notting Hill, west London, had been appointed player-manager, the only black manager in the Football League, until Keith Alexander at Lincoln City in 1993.
After three years in the Army, Collins had signed for Sheffield Wednesday in 1947 but could not break into the first team, leaving for York City two years later.
Playing mainly on the left wing, he then went to Watford in 1950, Norwich City in 1953, Torquay United in 1955, Watford again in 1957, then Crystal Palace, and finally Rochdale from 1959 to 1961. A well-regarded, dependable professional, Collins made 333 league appearances, scoring 47 goals.
In 1961/62, during the second of his six seasons in charge, Collins steered Fourth Division Rochdale to the League Cup Final, losing on aggregate to Norwich City over two legs.
The competition was in its early days and some big clubs had not entered, but it was a significant achievement for an unfashionable club with limited resources. Collins served Rochdale loyally until 1967 when he resigned, exhausted by the perennial struggle of managing on a shoe-string budget.
Having proved himself, Collins hoped to be offered a manager’s job elsewhere, but his qualities were overlooked.
Eventually, in 1968, he joined Alan Dicks at Bristol City, as assistant manager, staying there until invited by Don Revie to move to Leeds United as chief scout in 1974.
Revie valued Collins highly for the reports he compiled on the strengths and weaknesses of upcoming opponents and continued to use him in this capacity during his years as England manager between 1976 and 1978.
By then, Collins had resumed his connection with Bristol City, then enjoying a brief spell in the top flight. After City’s relegation in 1980, he was recruited, again as chief scout, by Ron Atkinson at Manchester United, where he justified his reputation as a talent-spotter by bringing Paul McGrath and Lee Sharpe to Old Trafford.
He continued to work as a scout, mainly for Jim Smith at Derby County and Queens Park Rangers, until retiring, aged 77, in 2003.
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