Colin Collindridge is from Yorkshire mining stock, a background that defined him during his career as a professional footballer with three Football League clubs either side of the Second World War. He is 98 today.
Throughout my two interviews with Colin Collindridge – the second was partly to clear up some things he had said during the first and partly to convince myself I had not dreamed him up – I am constantly reminded, in various ways, that where he came from near Barnsley a man was nothing without his manhood and a footballer was nothing if he was not prepared to settle something behind the stands with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up – and then share a pint of bitter and a laugh.
These are things that obsess him over and above the considerable success and popularity he achieved at his three League clubs – Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and Coventry City – as a speedy left-winger, and occasional centre forward, with a bullet shot.
He and his wife Glenice are as attentive and hospitable hosts as you could find, but even today seated and leaning back, his face softened by a disarming smile and never wasting an opportunity to extol the singing voice of Bing Crosby, Collindridge makes me feel ever so slightly uneasy.
In fact there is one tense moment when his face clouds and he stiffens just a little. He wants to know whether, since I keep glancing at the clock, I would prefer to be on my way. I tell him – and, thankfully, he accepts my explanation – it is the family photographs on the mantelpiece that are distracting me, not the time.
But I get the sense that in common with most men who regard their masculinity as the ultimate badge of worth, he holds women in the highest regard, even fears them a little. Of the two other people in the room with him – Glenice is the other – I suspect he would pick a scrap with me if he wanted the easier victory.
‘I’ve met hundreds of nice females,’ he says, ‘including my missus, who’s a good Nottingham girl who puts me in my place.’
Glenice rolls her eyes wearily at having to listen to a familiar script. Collindrige keeps going: ‘You’ve heard of Jock McAvoy, the boxer, a Lancashire lad who fought for the world light-heavyweight title? Well my missus is a better scrapper than Jock was.
‘And you’ve heard of Betty Grable? Well, she paid a million dollars to insure her legs and they were great legs and my missus had legs that were as good as Betty Grable’s. But she doesn’t believe me, because she doesn’t believe anything I say…’
He returns to his father: ‘He worked in the mines after he left school. He’d got one or two mates who stuck up for miners and he could use his tongue, my dad, but he could also use these [he holds up his fists]. So if the coalmine owners had one or two rough tough guys my dad used to sort them out generally with that [he holds up his right fist], although I think he were a southpaw, actually.
‘He taught me nicely but the only thing was at school I was always in scraps because someone wanted to fight me. And, of course, generally I showed them that one [he holds up his left fist] and banged them with it, because I was southpaw. So that was part of my upbringing.’
Physicality will be one of the most popular reference points for the players I visit, for none more so than Collindridge. And the fact he is from rugged mining stock, and mighty proud of it, is particularly relevant, a hefty strand in what differentiates football either side of the Second World War from what it has become.
Footnote: Glenice, Colin Collindridge’s redoubtable wife, died earlier this year.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.