Review: Tony Collins: Football master spy


By - Monday 14th November, 2016

The amazing story of Crystal Palace’s first black player


Image by The Book Guild Publishing, used with permission.

Born in 1926, Tony Collins was Crystal Palace’s first black player, joining the club in the 1957/8 season, and scoring 15 goals in 55 appearances – a decent return for a left winger.

To be honest to Palace fans, Tony Collins’ appearances for the Eagles are only a small part of a fascinating story which saw him become the first black manager in the football league.

As well as being an outstanding player, Collins was a shrewd tactician, and it was his knowledge of the game and astute assessment of player’s abilities that led him to be in demand as a football scout until he retired at the age of 80.

The book is not only a document of a life in football, it is a historical record of the extreme racism prevalent during much on the 20th century. To put it into context, for much of Tony Collins’ career, as a player in particular, he would have had to put up with the use of ‘the N word’, both on the pitch and off it.

His views on Don Revie, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brain Clough are worth the entrance fee alone

He was born in the era when William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean was in his goal scoring pomp for Everton. An era when the swarthy Dean would regularly be called ‘a black bastard’ by opposition players and supporters. Dean was white.

The book is a fascinating read, jointly authored by Quentin Cope and Tony’s daughter Sarita Collins, and as well as covering Tony’s career in football, it includes his opinions on many of the famous managers he was involved with, and scouting reports on individual players and on opposing teams.

His views on Don Revie, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brain Clough are worth the entrance fee alone. Add to these his scouting assessments on Gary Lineker, David Seaman and Chris Waddle to name but three, plus dossiers on opposing teams, in the form of match reports.

It was for this attention to detail that Tony Collins became known as ‘the master spy’. In this, as in his football career, he was years ahead of his time.

Paul Dennis

Paul Dennis

An award-winning journalist, Paul has worked on angling titles for much of his career, including 16 years as deputy editor of Angler's Mail and 4 years as editor of Total Sea Fishing magazine. He is a regular freelance contributor for a wide array of non-angling-related titles, author of two books on angling and a widely-followed authority on the subject.

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