Bobby Collins: Footballer whose fearsome passion for the game helped Don Revie transform the fortunes of Leeds United
Wednesday 15 January 2014
Bobby Collins was a tiny, tank-like, inspirational imp of a footballer, a fearsomely potent cocktail of flair and fire who starred for Celtic, Everton and Scotland then scaled unexpectedly giddy heights as a veteran with Leeds United. A pocket Napoleon, who differed from most generals in that invariably he was found where the battle raged at its fiercest, the exuberant schemer was central to the Yorkshire club's transformation under manager Don Revie from a depressed institution apparently bound for the Third Division in March 1962 into one of the best teams in England three years later.
The Glaswegian's rewards, garnered in the spring of 1965 at the age of 34, included the Footballer of the Year accolade, a recall to his country's colours after a six-year hiatus and runners-up slots in the FA Cup final and the League Championship race. While the individual prize and the international recognition suffused him with pride, the 5ft 3in "Wee Barra" was infuriated over Leeds' gallant near-misses in the two main domestic competitions. He wanted to be a winner at all times and he perceived anything less as a personal insult.
Exuding insatiable zest, Collins made teams play. He loved the ball and he demanded it, then used it with acute precision and perception to dictate events. His passing was crisp and incisive, his tackles carried a ferocious bite, he packed a savage shot and he was deeply wily, more than capable of surviving and prospering in football's darker alleyways.
Crucially, too, he was metronomically consistent, and relentlessly dedicated to his craft, training with a near-demonic fervour, largely eschewing alcohol and tobacco and rebuilding energy with post-training siestas.
After joining Celtic in 1948, Collins made his senior entrance in an Old Firm derby against Rangers in August 1949 and soon made an impact. Cast as an outside-right, he yearned for more central involvement, and switched to inside-forward, though not before winning his first three caps in 1950. He helped lift the Scottish Cup in 1951, but his impetus was interrupted by National Service as a Bevin Boy in the Fife coalfield, training each day with Cowdenbeath after an exhausting shift. He was not fazed, though, continuing to excel, netting a hat-trick of penalties against Aberdeen in autumn 1953 and playing a prominent part in winning the League and Cup double, though he was absent for the Cup final.
He played regularly for Scotland and scored ever more heavily for Celtic, though he failed to hit the target as Rangers were eclipsed 7-1 in the 1957 League Cup Final. The fans adored him for his skill and spirit, but in 1958, with money needed to help pay for Parkhead's new floodlights, he was sold for £23,500 to Everton, who had offered him a contract after a trial at Goodison Park as a baby-faced teenager. Initially he was deployed as a front-man, but he craved, forcefully demanded and received a deep-lying midfield role, manager Johnny Carey making him captain and seeing him as creator-in-chief and principal motivator.
For three years he was the outstanding member of a moderate side, scoring many of their goals and creating most of the rest, but in 1961-62 he clashed with new manager Harry Catterick, who saw the 30-year-old as peripheral to his plans. Having lost his inside-right place to the younger Dennis Stevens, and unimpressed by the offer to compete with Billy Bingham for the right-wing slot, he accepted a £30,000 move to Leeds United, vowing angrily to prove that Everton were wrong to let him go.
He found a club in the doldrums, teetering towards relegation from the Second Division but blessed with a visionary young manager in Don Revie. The pair struck up an instant rapport, Leeds lost one of their last 11 games that season and they stayed up, the first step in a startling renaissance which soon would change the balance of power in the English game.
Revie described Collins as "my teacher on the pitch", and he exerted massive influence on the likes of emerging talents such as Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Norman Hunter. He was instrumental not only in the younger mens' footballing development but also in imbuing the combativeness for which Leeds were much criticised but which played a mammoth part in their subsequent success.
In 1963-64, with Collins missing only one match, United were promoted as champions, and in 1964-65 they finished as runners-up to Manchester United on goal average and lost the FA Cup final to Liverpool in extra time. With his Indian summer seemingly never-ending, Collins thoroughly deserved his Footballer of the Year award and his Scotland recall, but he was cut down cruelly, his thigh shattered by a tackle from Poletti of Torino in an Inter Cities Fairs Cup tie in October 1965.
It was an horrendous injury from which few observers expected the 34-year-old to recover, but they reckoned without his exceptional determination and within seven months he was back, appearing intermittently until being freed to join Bury at 36 in February 1967. Even the indestructible Collins could not prevent the Shakers's relegation to the Third Division, but he inspired them to bounce back a year later, barely missing a game.
Thereafter, his appetite for the game as obsessive as ever, he returned to his homeland to join Morton in August 1969, then served three Australian clubs, Ringwood City, Hakoah and Wilhelmina, as player-coach before accepting a similar post with Third Division Oldham Athletic in 1972. Following a short loan stint with Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, he retired as a player in April 1973 at 42, serving briefly as assistant manager at Oldham, then taking charge of Huddersfield Town in July 1974.
However, management did not suit Collins, who failed to keep the Yorkshiremen out of the Fourth Division and resigned in December 1975. Later he coached at Leeds, Blackpool and Barnsley, had spells at Hull City and Barnsley which ended in the sack, and took the reins of Guiseley Celtic, resigning in 1988.
In the 1990s he was still playing at amateur level, his influence still vastly out of proportion with his physical stature, even indulging in occasional fisticuffs when the spirit moved him. It is hard to believe that the will to win ever burned more fiercely within any footballer than within Bobby Collins.
Robert Young Collins, footballer and manager; born Glasgow 16 February 1931; died 13 January 2014.
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