THE SINGING WINGER
Born in the Yorkshire coal mining village of Havercroft (near Barnsley), he was one of seven children. Two of his siblings died in infancy, of diptheria.
His parents were Daniel, a miner at Monckton Colliery, and Lily Holliday, a housewife.
Colin was a promising footballer and represented Barnsley Boys. Two of his teammates were Tommy Taylor who went on to play for Manchester United and England and was one of the ‘Busby Babes’ killed in the Munich Air Crash in 1958, and Dickie Bird, later to be a famous cricket umpire.
Colin left school aged 15 and became an apprentice car mechanic earning £1 a week.
To make a bit of extra money he would sing at the Havercroft Working Men’s Club, where his father was Entertainments Secretary.
His brother John (known to the family as Jack), signed as a professional footballer with Rotherham United, and Colin began to think about a career in the sport.
His family were a football family. As well as his brother, three cousins played professionally, and his sister Lily married Jim Iley who played for Spurs, Newcastle and Nottingham Forest.
Colin was offered a trial with Wrexham FC and was then made an apprentice at £5 a week. His cousin Derek Grainger was in Wrexham’s first team and had alerted the club to Colin’s potential. Colin was to spend two years in the reserves and then left to do his National Service, spending two years in the RAF.
When he returned, he made his Football League debut against Hartlepools United. But after just five first team games he was sold to First Division Sheffield United for £2,500.
Very quickly he earned a reputation as the fastest man in football. His first goal came in 1954 verses Tottenham Hotspur, when he dribbled past their full back, Alf Ramsey.
In 1956 he received an England call up and played his international debut in a friendly at Wembley against Brazil. He was on the left wing and Stanley Matthews was on the right wing.
He made a stunning start, scoring within four minutes with his first touch of the ball. He scored a second with a header from a Matthews cross just before the final whistle. England won 4-2.
He was then selected for an England tour of Scandinavia. It was during an evening on this tour that Nat Lofthouse encouraged Colin to sing, to entertain British journalists. His prowess was recorded in the newspapers and his singing career suddenly took off. He was nicknamed ‘The Singing Winger’.
His first professional engagement was as the support act to American group The Hilltoppers. As they were doing a tour of the UK, Colin was signed up to be their supporting act, it being the football close season. He sang three songs, all covers, most famously including an Al Jolson song.
As an international footballer, he was very high profile and made appearances on television and radio.
At the same time, he married Doreen Rowe. They were to have two children, Colin and Kim.
In 1957 Sheffield United were relegated. In their first match in the Second Division in the 1957-58 season, they played away at Rotherham and for the only time in his professional career Colin faced his brother Jack. Sheffield United won 4-0 and Colin scored twice.
But he picked up a bad ankle injury playing for England against Wales. It led him to miss the 1958 World Cup.
It took a long time to heal and the new Sheffield United manager Joe Mercer, realised without his speed he would not be the same player and told the board to sell him immediately.
Against his wishes Colin was sold to Sunderland. As a sweetener Mercer slipped him (a very illegal) £300.
In the summer of 1958, he was signed to MCA records and released his first single ‘This I Know’. He also did a UK tour and was paid £250 a week. The Stage magazine reviewed him, saying he was, “a very pleasing vocalist with a small style.” He was noted for holding soprano notes for a long time.
He hated being at Sunderland and said it was, “like being in prison.” He did not get on with the manager Alan Brown. The latter was a noted disciplinarian and hated the fact Colin had an alternative career – and was well-known for it. Colin said that Brown, “created discord where there had been harmony and anxiety out of tranquillity.”
Brown steered Sunderland to their first ever relegation. One of Colin’s teammates was former international, Don Revie.
It was whilst at this club Colin played this seventh and final game for England, against Scotland at Wembley. England won the Home International Championship so Colin got his winner’s medal.
He also represented the Football League on two occasions.
He asked the Sunderland board for a loan so that he could open a newsagent’s shop in South Shields. They turned him down, so he immediately put in a transfer request. The board labelled him a ‘football rebel’ and sold him to second division Leeds United for a then club record of £15,000. It was just before the Don Revie era, and he played alongside Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner.
As soon as Revie became manager of Leeds, he sold Colin to third division Port Vale.
This did not go well. The manager had a very strenuous training regime and Colin pulled his groin. The manager told him the injury was all in his mind and carried on picking him – making the injury worse.
But he did have the satisfaction of being in the Port Vale team that pulled off a shock FA Cup win in 1962, knocking out Sunderland.
Meanwhile, in 1963, he appeared alongside The Beatles. They appeared in back-to-back concerts in one night, at the Palace Theatre Club in Stockport and the Southern Sporting Club in Manchester. The booking was made just before The Beatles became famous so they were paid the same, £50 (even if The Beatles took top billing). Colin joked The Beatles had to split their money four ways whilst he kept his fee to himself.
By now his singing career was taking off. He supported Max Miller and was himself a headliner at the London Palladium and signed a £20,000 recording contract with HMV. It was a contrast to the £20 a week maximum wage footballers were earning up to 1961.
In 1964 he moved to fourth division Doncaster Rovers. Playing away at Brighton he received the only sending off of his career. The Brighton full back Wally Gould, playing against a former international, kicked Colin at every available opportunity. Finally, Colin lost his temper and punched Gould in the face. He was suspended for 21 days.
In 1966 he moved into the non-league with Macclesfield Town, but after just 4 games asked to be released from his contract so that he could concentrate on his singing career.
He continued singing in pubs and working men’s clubs until 1970 when he retired to become a regional manager for a cash register company. His final performance was in a club in Leeds. Later, he became a wine salesman.
He continued playing amateur football until 1978 and was player manager of Newmillerdam (near Wakefield) village team.
With his job as a salesman meaning he travelled a lot, he became a scout for various football league teams. He discovered a young talent called Chris Waddle, and recommended him to Mansfield Town, but was ignored.
In 2007 Sheffield United invited him to Bramall Lane for the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world. There, on the pitch, Colin was the designated person to meet and greet the Brazilian legend, Pele.
Ironically, Colin spent a lot of time in retirement at Sunderland FC and became a big fan.
He released his autobiography in 2019 entitled ‘The Singing Winger’. In it he said, “I was far more nervous before a gig than before a match. In football you’re one man of 11, but in singing you’re one man of one.”
He said football, not singing, was his first love. “I was doing something I loved and getting paid £12 a week.”
Doreen died in 2020 and he moved into a care home in Kirklees, which is where he died.
During the pandemic he had a zoom call from current England Captain Harry Kane. Colin advised Kane to join Manchester United if he wanted to further his career.
There were fulsome tributes from former clubs Leeds, Sunderland and Sheffield United. The Blades said he was, “a truly wonderful, warm and engaging man.”
RIP – Recordings (by) International Player