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Football Remembers: Tony Collins' story

8 May 2020

World War II veteran shares his memories with Academy players at his former club Watford

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day to mark the end of World War II in Europe, players from 11 club academies visited ex-footballers who served in the armed forces to learn about their lives and the sacrifices they made.

Tony Collins (Watford)

Collins, now 94, was called up to serve in 1944 when he was 18 and was stationed in Italy after training.

Post-war he signed for Sheffield Wednesday and went on to play for many clubs, including two spells at Watford during the 1950s.

Groundbreaking manager

When Collins was named player-manager at Rochdale, he became the first black-heritage manager in the Football League.

He talked to four Watford Under-15 players about his time in the war and shared with them his experience of the game in post-war England.

Watford were not aware of Collins until Club historians unearthed his story for the Football Remembers project.

"It's just been eye opening to find out about him, and a unique and unforgettable opportunity for our Academy players to meet and interview him," Nathan Marshall, Head of Education at Watford, said.

"His story shines a light on the incredible experience of World War II, and puts our football culture in perspective.

"Working on this makes you take stock of values and the community. It is a great privilege for us all to be involved."

'Incredible opportunity'

Martyn Heather, Head of Education at the Premier League, said the Football Remembers WWII project epitomised the League's commitment to developing "academy players as young men of quality and good character off the pitch as well as on it".

"It's given academy players an incredible opportunity to connect with their elders and to hear first-hand from the 'Greatest generation,'" Heather added. "They have made us proud."

The Premier League worked with Big Ideas on bringing the project to life and Virginia Crompton, its CEO, said that meeting the academy players had also meant much to the player-veterans.

"Sadly we have lost four of our eleven over the past few months since we started filming," she said.

"It is a precious experience and vital that we take the opportunity now, while we can, to make these connections."

In the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Watford striker Troy Deeney caught up with Collins and a former team-mate Bill Shipwright to hear their war memories.

Deeney talks to WWII veterans
Get In Touch

Football supporters can get involved in this Football Remembers activity by sharing a short video message for the nation’s World War II veterans on Twitter using the hashtag #FootballRemembers or by uploading their video message on the Big Ideas website.

Or you can show your support for an older person who may be isolated at the moment by taking part in our #GetInTouch activity.

Write and share a letter, or make a phone call to an older relative, friend or neighbour to make sure they are OK and to help them not feel isolated.

See: Football Remembers WWII

Also in this series

Part 1: Arthur House's story
Part 3: Josser Watling's story
Part 4: Gordon Astall's story
Part 5: Charles White's story
Part 6: Charlie Chase's story
Part 7: Bobby Brown's story
Part 8: Bill Blount's story
Part 9: Tommy Docherty's story
Part 10: Reg Harrison's story
Part 11: Dudley Kernick's story 

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