When the inimitable Tommy Docherty passed away last new year’s eve my thoughts almost instantly drifted to a man who has so often reminded me of The Doc.
Like the late former Manchester United manager did in both England and Scotland, Anglesey-based Colin Hawkins has carved a reputation for being one of the most colourful, controversial, charismatic and comical figures in North Wales football.
In short, a true character.
When you see and listen to some of the lifeless, trash-talking and predictable football pundits assessing today’s soccer scene, you thank goodness for people like The Doc and The Hawk. What a debate those two would have sparked on TalkSport!
Born on February 21, 1950, Colin Hawkins lives in Llanfechell on Ynys Môn and while his prime managerial days are now a thing of the past, his football legacy is secure.
Best renowned for his spells as boss of Bangor City, Cemaes Bay and Porthmadog, The Hawk’s involvement in the game covers many other spheres.
So where did it all start? And was he as good a player as he was to prove as a manager?
“My father was born in 1907,” Colin told Grassroots North Wales.
“A good schoolboy footballer, he failed to get on in the game, blaming the First World War, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the great depression of the 1920’s.
“To follow in his footsteps, I had a decent schoolboy record playing for the school team, the county and signing associate schoolboy forms for Gillingham (school leaving age in the 60’s was 14.5/15).
“Despite failing a trial at Swindon, I refuse to let my lack of talent be the reason for not progressing, preferring to blame the swinging sixties – wine, women and song.
“I played locally, got a job with a local firm and enjoyed life.”
Then came a life-changing move to Anglesey.
“My employers gained a contract at Wylfa NPS. In 1968, I moved to Cemaes Bay as part of my employment, and continued playing locally.
“There was no team in Cemaes, so with about 6 others we formed Cemaes Bay FC as the previous club had been defunct for circa 30 years. We joined the Anglesey League (1976-77).
“Nobody had formal football qualifications, I volunteered to take a qualification, I had time as I had left Wylfa and was working as a salesman with Green Shield Stamps.
“I also knew of a coaching course to take place at Farrar Road, Bangor, as I had been training with Bangor City reserves and third team.”
Wales manager Mike Smith was running the course. He was pioneering the start of coaching badges in Wales.
Smith was the first full-time Wales manager, with a remit to develop football within the principality.
Colin added: “I took the qualification and progressed onto my full FAW coaching badge – these days it’s the C, B, A and Pro-licence.
“The following season Bangor were seeking a manager. Mike Smith recommended Dave Elliott, former player with Sunderland, Newcastle, Southend and Newport County (player-manager).
“Dave joined City as player-manager and I also joined as commercial manager/secretary etc.
“In short, I took charge of the off-field duties so Dave could concentrate on playing etc. We worked as a team but he was the gaffer.”
And the pair had a considerable impact at Farrar Road.
“We had great success, qualifying as founder members of the Alliance Premier League (now the National League), enjoyed various cup successes and also qualifying and playing in the Anglo Italian League – two matches in Bangor and two in Italy. Famously, Bobby Charlton guested for us,” recalled The Hawk.
Sadly, the good times did not last.
“At the start of 1979 the chairman sacked Dave and replaced him with Stuart Mason the former Wrexham, Liverpool and Chester player.
“I was general manager, Stuart was player-manager.
“Halfway through the season Mason quit, me and long-serving player Tony Broadhead took over as caretaker managers, this continued until the end of season.
“The following season I reverted to my old role and Stan Storton was appointed manager.
“We built a good team, Stan had excellent contacts for players having previously played for Hartlepool, Tranmere and managed Runcorn in the NPL for a few years.”
Midway through the campaign, Colin was thrust into the manager’s role at Bangor in very testing circumstances.
“The club was engulfed in a financial crisis, as was the whole country, banks cancelled overdrafts and the budgets were cut. Stan departed for Northwich Victoria and I took over.
“To raise funds I advertised all the contract players for sale. This resulted in a fire sale.
“Gordon Banks, the Telford manager (and England’s 1966 World Cup winning goalkeeper) took Dave Mather (striker), Kevin Charlton (goalkeeper) and Alan Walker (centre-half) for a combined £45,000 fee.
“Pat Olney (winger ex-Man United) went to Scarborough for £8,500, Kevin Mooney to Bury for £7,500, Jim Smith and Dave Barnett to Stafford Rangers for £4.500, Ray Stubbs (BBC presenter) and Barry Murphy to Northwich Vics for £5,000.
“A couple of other players departed for nominal fees, unfortunately Neville Southall was non-contract and had left the season before for Conwy and Winsford (you could sign for different clubs in different leagues in those days).”
So more than £70,000 brought in, but now Colin was faced with rebuilding a team.
“With good contacts gained to re-sign, ex local players such as Gary Hughes, Phil Tottey, Peter Kasparek, Paul Lewis etc and a good Welsh League reserve team to promote from, I was able to continue the season.
“The following season I acted alone with club legend the man in black Len Davies as assistant/groundsman/physio/driver on a greatly reduced budget.
“It was very difficult in a national league, travelling to Gravesend, Yeovil, Barnet, and Scarborough to name a few, regularly catching a 7am train to away matches.
“Despite some heroic performances from the boys, we reached the F A Trophy semi final, we were relegated back to the NPL, one good thing was that we had built the nucleus of a decent local team, and unearthed a gem in striker Graham Bennett, who I had spotted playing in the Welsh league.”
The next season, Colin’s role changed.
“Having purchased a hotel in Cemaes Bay I wanted to go part-time,” he said.
“I only agreed to stay if new chairman, local Solicitor John Ross Jones, re-employed Dave Elliott, who had a sports shop in the city.
“With the agreement, I agreed to stay as director of football.
“I’m glad I did as we had great success, gaining promotion back to the national league, and in 1984 getting to the FA Trophy final at Wembley where we drew (with Northwich Victoria), eventually losing the replay at Stoke City 2-1.
“We were again relegated from the national league, Dave had a new shop in Llandudno, and wanted out.
“Mike Smith again stepped in and recommended one of his ex-Wales players who had turned to coaching having retired early through injury.
“In stepped John Mahoney, ex-Wales, Stoke & Swansea. Again I continued as director of football.”
More special times awaited the Citizens under Mahoney.
Colin revealed: “John, like Dave, was a dream to work with, and had tremendous knowledge. It all culminated in one of the great Bangor city adventures: the European Cup Winners Cup.
“Norway’s Fredrikstad were overcome, and next up was the glamour tie of Atletico Madrid.
“Dai Davies came out of retirement at 41 to play in goal, Viv Williams played so well they (Atletico) tried to sign him, and our skipper Mark Palios went on to become head of the English FA (you couldn’t write it).”
Finally, by 1988, Colin decided his Bangor City adventure was over.
“I eventually left Bangor in 1988, 14 great years, working with so many great people, too many to name.
“I also made so many friends in the great football family, which has seen me in the Royal Box at Wembley and Monte Carlo, and welcomed from Bodedern through to Margate and Swansea and up to Glasgow.”
Colin’s next move was to rejoin the club he helped reform 16 years earlier.
“In 1992 I took over Cemaes Bay FC along with Chris Lawler (ex Liverpool & England). He did a season with me at Bangor, and bought a house locally.
“Brian Flynn had taken over as player-manager at Wrexham, with Joey Jones as coach.
“Joey also managed the reserve team which played in the Midland Senior League on Wednesday afternoons.
“To help the youngsters, even though Joey was 40 he also played, so I joined to do the off-field /dugout stuff with another ex-Bangor player George McGowan.
“It was a great time. Wednesday was no pressure day apart from big name first teamers coming back from injury like Mickey Thomas, Ian Rush and Darren Ferguson.
“We also had youngsters like present Caernarfon manager Huw Griffiths, plus current Swansea City manager Steve Cooper.”
Meanwhile, Cemaes were a different animal to the one which existed in 1976. They went on to win the Welsh Alliance and Cymru Alliance leagues, before becoming the first Anglesey club to play in the newly-formed national League of Wales.
Colin recalled: “At Cemaes we had a great run, signing the best players in Anglesey and North Wales.
“Bob Brodie joined us from Bodedern as coach, the committee played their part developing the stadium and installing floodlights.
“The team won consecutive promotions and were promoted to the League of Wales, surviving for 3 seasons until a financial crisis and it was then successive relegations.”
Colin’s last major managerial appointment was at League of Wales club Porthmadog.
“I moved on to Porthmadog, originally as number 2 to player-manager Mickey Thomas, and succeeded him after one season.
“I did 8 years there, but developing a local team, again finances became tight.
“I was forced to sell local striker Paul Roberts to Wrexham for £12,000, left-back Mike Foster to Aberystwyth for £3,000, Chris Waring to Bangor for £1,000.
“Eventually, I wanted out and my assistants Viv Williams and Osian Roberts were looking to finish playing and get into management. Again a great decision because they did well and took the club forward.”
Colin had plenty to keep him busy outside football management and remains involved in many of these activities today.
“I had my hands full as co-ordinator at Football in the Community; additionally I had become involved as a Master of Ceremonies in football. boxing, golf and charity events.
“All in all I have had a good run, until lockdown and this darn Covid I was very much in demand as an MC or guest coach at various local clubs.
“The football family is the greatest thing. I miss the banter, or just dropping in to see a local game, or a treat going to a Premier game.
“Let’s all hope for some normality soon.”
Having worked for local newspapers in Denbigh and Rhyl between 1988-2007, I did not have too much direct contact with Colin in those years.
However, he was always very helpful when he was the opposing manager and I needed to add some meat to the bones of a report.
He had an amazing memory in that he could tell you the names of all the opposition players, as well as his own of course, and brilliantly describe a game.
Colin had a good relationship with the media, his gregarious personality means he gets on well with everyone. He had a few buzz phrases, one of his best with me was: “You’re a gentleman and a Skolar (sic)” – the latter part relating to a TV beer commercial of the time.
He was also expert at winding up the opposition at games. At one cup final, he pressed a notoriously volatile opposition player’s buttons by squirting water in his face. The Hawk’s touchline comments were often hilarious.
Colin has always said it as it is. His forthright views on the FAW were legendary and got him in hot water on more than one occasion.
Once the game was over whatever happened on the pitch was forgotten and he was great for a friendly chat in the bar.
I also recall a really great night in the 1990’s when he was MC at an event in Amlwch where the great Gordon Banks was the guest of honour.
Mr Banks had the crowd in stitches with some of his stories and Colin was equally amusing. His former assistant at Cemaes and my very good friend Bob Brodie was there, as was former Holyhead Hotspur and Glantraeth official Jeff Scott.
Going even further back to the late 1980’s, I called at the Harbour Hotel in Cemaes Bay, where mine host Colin was introducing popular live act the League of Gentlemen. First time I’d met him properly, had a great welcome.
A great manager, but more importantly a truly fine person. Gift of the gab, talk the hind leg off a donkey etc etc, no-one else like him.
Thanks for the interview Colin. Maybe we can do a follow up at some stage with some of your funny football stories.