Colin Collindridge, who lived a long and eventful life, resumed his football career after the Second Wold War having narrowly escaped death himself...
Colin Collindridge, the redoubtable Yorkshireman who died earlier this month aged 98, was a great character who, had he been born in another era, would have made a very tidy living as a professional footballer.
As it was he had the misfortune to play when wages were pegged – less than ten quid a week when he started out – and when the world was at war.
He did admit when I interviewed him for my book When Footballers Were Skint that he bore some resentment that the Second World War butted in just after he had started with his first club Sheffield United. It was right at the moment he was starting to make a name for himself as a speedy left-winger, and occasional centre forward, with a thumping shot.
Also, though, he counted himself lucky. ‘A local lad, Ernest England, was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk. He’d worked down the coalmine at Woolley and when he was taken prisoner they stuck him down a coalmine in Germany.
‘He came home and he’d been back for a week when he died. I’m not sure what he died of, but what happened to me was nothing compared to that.’
Collindridge, who was born at Cawthorne Basin, near Barnsley on 15 November 1920, had been a good schoolboy footballer before going on to play for Wombwell Main. They were a strong team in the Barnsley Association League, who were once good enough to compete in the FA Cup.
‘There was one League match,’ Collindridge said, ‘where we played a team from Hoyland who were useless and we beat them 22-0 – and I scored eight.’
As a result he was given a trial with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Cadbury’s chocolate ground near Birmingham. He scored a couple of goals and thought, ‘I’ve done all right here.’
But it wasn’t to be after he felt he was unfairly disposed of by the Wolves manager Major Frank Buckley.
‘Maybe I wasn’t good enough but what Buckley did was a poor way of showing respect. I wasn’t brought up like that. My father had brought me up that if anybody uses bad manners, son, or swears badly in front of your mother give ’em that [he raises his right fist] and, if you can’t, give ’em that [he raises his left boot]. And you’re not bad with the left clog.’
Collindridge added that anyway Buckley made a mistake and backed his claim by quoting something that the Sheffield journalist Fred Walters wrote about his playing ability. The article appeared in the Green ’Un sports paper when Collindridge was playing for Sheffield United, which he did either side of the Second World War.
‘Walters was the ace, king, queen and jack of football as a journalist in Sheffield,’ Collindridge said, ‘and he said I should be playing for England.’
He had signed for Sheffield United in 1938 when the Yorkshire club were heading for promotion to the First Division as the 1938-39 Second Division runners-up behind Blackburn Rovers (and one point ahead of Sheffield Wednesday).
In October of the following season Collindridge, aged 18, made his first-team debut. By then, though, war had broken out and the match just down the road against Huddersfield that launched Collindridge’s football career was only a friendly.
The Football League was suspended while wartime leagues were organised and although the professional game kept going – to keep up a pretence of normality and provide entertainment for an embattled nation – inevitably it had an unreal, makeshift feel to it.
To accommodate players’ postings they were allowed to flit between clubs and games were not permitted to be staged in areas that were in danger of being bombed.
So the years that should have been the prime of Collindridge’s footballing life were twilight years for football and footballers.
During the war, Collindridge joined the RAF and ended up at Syerston near Newark ‘staying fit by winding bomb loads on to Lancasters’.
‘There were four in a bomb crew,’ Collindridge said, ‘two upstairs winding the bomb on and two downstairs guiding it up to fit where it should.
‘On this particular day we’d just loaded a cookie – a 4,000-pounder with a lot of explosive – when suddenly the kite [the Lancaster] went up a couple of feet.
‘I looked at my mate and ran to the front, down the dip into where the bomb aimer operated and I said, “What was that then?” My mate couldn’t talk. He pointed. “The cookie, the cookie,” he said, eventually, “it’s dropped off.”
‘I couldn’t talk either for about five minutes. We thought it might have gone off. You never knew your luck with those bombs because so often they used to go off when they shouldn’t have.’
After the war Collindridge made well over 100 appearances for Sheffield United, but they were a fraction of the number this popular player would have played had it not been for the lost years, 1939-45.
He said one reason he left United was because Jimmy Hagan was stripped of the captaincy after falling out with the directors. He, Collindridge, was then offered the captain’s role but says he turned it down out of loyalty to Hagan, whom he regarded ‘as the classiest footballer I ever played with or against. And I was lucky because he made me look a good footballer.
‘What made Jimmy so outstanding was that he had a brain, for a start. And he could be in a room no bigger than this one with three other people’ – we were seated in his small front room – ‘and, with the ball at his feet, he’d dribble round the lot of them.’
There was a drawback to playing alongside Hagan, though: ‘Opponents wouldn’t be able to get the ball off him and I’d stand watching him in amazement and then wouldn’t be ready when he passed the ball to me.’
But Collindridge and Hagan did perfect one double act: ‘After the war Jimmy and I had a routine going that appealed to Jimmy because it meant using his brain.
‘A German bomb had landed on the Bramall Lane pitch and where the crater had been filled in the surface was always a bit soft. I’d manoeuvre my fullback so he was standing on this bit of ground and when he was properly bogged down Jimmy would slip the ball past him for me to run on to.’
Collindridge moved from Sheffield United to Nottingham Forest (1950-54) before finishing his Football League career at Coventry City (1954-56). He than had a season with Bath City.
Colin Collindridge’s funeral will be held in Nottingham on Friday 10 May
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback