Football: Collins seeks comic relief

Phil Gordon talks to the Scotsman who will feel at home for Estonia rematch
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The Independent Online
As Away matches in international football go, Tuesday's World Cup tie with Estonia will bring John Collins as close to home as he will ever be. The Monaco midfielder will step out the door of his beachfront apartment, walk 600 yards along the road to the five-star hotel where his Scotland team- mates are based, and then, turn up for work as usual at the Louis II Stadium.

The Uefa bureaucrats who chose this as the neutral venue for the controversially rearranged fixture have a perverse sense of irony: from Tallin, where the floodlight wattage couldn't satisfy a village hall disco, to Monte Carlo, where the glittering jewellery of its millionaire residents could illuminate the night sky on its own. Scotland are still seething at being made to replay this game following the hosts' no-show last October, and no one more so than Collins. He was the captain on that farcical occasion, whose leadership was abruptly halted after just three seconds.

"It was a dream come true for me to be made Scotland captain that day but the way it all ended left a bitter taste in my mouth," reflected Collins this week. "I felt cheated and robbed.

"There may not be too many other occasions where Gary McAllister will be unfit, as he was then, so I may never get another chance to do the job again. I had waited all my life for that moment and to get just three seconds was a bad joke."

The Scots are keen to see justice done by taking three points in Monaco. "What happened was not our fault. We abided by the rules and feel we have been punished a bit, so we just want to put the record straight," Collins said.

While everything else in Collins' back-yard radiates luxury, that description does not apply to the pitch at Monaco's stadium. "It's a bit of a bog at the moment. It has been a wet winter in the south of France and there is nowhere for the rain to go because underneath the grass is pure concrete. When they built the stadium at Monaco they incorporated a multi-storey car park below the pitch. It's the one thing which lets this fabulous arena down," Collins said.

Certainly, it was a mudbath on its last public appearance a fortnight ago when Collins helped Monaco to defeat Paris St Germain 2-0 and thus stretch their lead to seven points in the French title race. Collins sustained a thigh injury that night which Monaco felt would keep him out of action for three or four weeks. However, so desperate was the 28-year-old to represent his country that he has, literally, gone through the pain barrier to make it. "I was given a kind of acupuncture treatment by the club," explained the Scot. "Twice a day I had 20 needles stuck into me, which was pretty fearsome but it has worked. I'm very patriotic about Scotland and proud of every one of my 39 caps. I didn't want to miss this game."

Collins has been able to fill in his countrymen on their pre-match billet, the Beach Plaza Hotel - he is a visitor there once a fortnight. "Monaco stay there before every home game," he said. "It's a bit strange since I live just two minutes away but going away with the team even before a home game is one of the things I have had to get used to."

Football, though, does not cut much ice with the 40,000 Monegasque inhabitants. Prince Rainier is the club's patron, with Prince Albert an avid supporter, but even with the royal seal of approval attendances rarely go beyond 5,000.

"It is a bit of a culture shock after what I was used to with Celtic," says Collins. "The stadium was full for the game with PSG but apart from that, it's normally only a quarter filled. I don't think too many of the locals will turn out to see Scotland but there will be a few of our own punters to help make a bit of an atmosphere."

Just so long as someone doesn't move the kick-off forward by five hours...

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