RIP Bobby Collins: A Player Even Bremner Looked Up To, A Leeds Legacy

Rest in peace to one of Leeds' greatest ever players...
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Rest in peace to one of Leeds' greatest ever players...

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Born: 16/02/31

Birthplace: Govanhill, Glasgow

Signed from: Everton

Leeds united debut: Swansea Town (H) 10/03/62

Left Leeds for: Bury

Leeds’ most important ever signing? Few have made such an impact and been so singularly responsible for creating the basic philosophy of the club. There are many parallel’s between the nature of Bobby Collins arrival at Leeds and that of Gordon Strachan 27 years later, and it is true that they were both brought in from a higher division as experienced Scottish internationals by a manager seeking leadership. It is also true that they ultimately achieved tangible success. The difference is that Collins laid the foundations for a reign of unprecedented success far greater than the one he personally played a part in. He was the player that even Billy Bremner looked up to, and for the legacy he helped to create, Leeds United will be forever in his debt.

He was Revie’s first ‘main man’ then? Precisely, yes. Revie had a game-plan and he knew he had a collection of gifted youngsters, but he needed somebody to seize control and nurture his unfocussed starlets. Collins became Revie’s enforcer, the heart and soul of his team, and even from the depths of the Second Division, where they sat entrenched when Collins arrived, Revie could foresee the qualities he required in his team to ensure they rose to the very top. Collins was a pocket-sized street fighter who knew no fear, and furthermore, he knew that intimidation was a crucial psychological weapon in reducing the effectiveness of the opposition. Collins instilled the ‘win at all costs’ ethic that Revie’s team became synonymous with, but he did it whilst also proving he was a fantastic footballer.

Revie pulled off a coup with the signing: Definitely. Collins had spent ten years with Celtic and four with Everton, and as a Scottish international he held a proud and respected status in the game. Noting he was disgruntled at Everton, Revie made an audacious move and shocked the top clubs by agreeing a £25,000 fee for him in March 1962. Revie said “I have never come across anyone with such a fierce will-to-win and dedication to the game … As manager of Leeds, I had been searching for some time for a midfield general with the character and skill really to motivate the team, and Bobby fitted the bill perfectly.”

Immediate dividends: Leeds were going nowhere when Collins signed, but his arrival prompted Revie himself to retire from playing, so he could oversee his masterplan with clarity. In his second full season of 1963/64 Collins, as captain, guided Leeds to the Second Division title, and with his influence implanted amongst the young side, not least his fellow Scot and midfield partner Billy Bremner, Collins fought and inspired his troops to further success.

So nearly the double: Leeds sneaked up on the blind side and very nearly pulled off the unique achievement of the league and cup double in their first season in the top flight. Collins was the passing, moving heartbeat of the side, but also the physical, menacing presence, even at 5ft 4’, that gave Leeds a critical edge in the heat of battle, at a time when football was as much about surviving brutal encounters as it was displaying genuine football skills. Crucially, Collins could do both. His energy and authority rubbed off on the team and earned him not only a Footballer of the Year award in 1965, but also his first Scotland cap in six years, at the age of 34.

A bad injury at a bad time though: A bad time for Collins, though not necessarily for Leeds United, as it made a difficult decision for Revie much easier. Leeds, in their first ever European experience, had won 2-1 at Elland Road in the first leg of the Inter-City Fairs Cup tie with Torino of Italy. The second leg was a typically tight and physical affair which Leeds navigated successfully with a 0-0 draw, but at great expense to their skipper Collins, who suffered a horrific broken thigh bone via a challenge from Torino defender Fabrizio Poletti. Norman Hunter recalls "I can still remember the tackle that put him out of the game and left us to battle for forty-five minutes with only ten men. Bobby and I were both well up the field when I saw a big defender coming towards him. Bobby was extremely quick over five to ten yards and he knocked the ball forward and accelerated after it but the big guy didn't pull up. He kept on running and his knee went right into Bobby's thigh. When I got to Bobby, his leg was waving around at the top because the bone was snapped high up the leg. It was horrendous."

Jack Charlton also remembered it vividly “…Bobby was lying there, the referee wanted to move him off the park, and the Turin players were trying to bundle him off. I wouldn't let them move him; I knew that if Bobby Collins wouldn't get up, he must have something broken. I stood over him, whacking one Italian and punching another to keep them back, until eventually the referee realised that Bobby must be seriously hurt and called for a stretcher.” Remarkably, Collins recovered to play a part in the tail end of that season, but his number was up.

Revie had plans didn’t he? In Collins absence, Revie paired Giles with Bremner in central midfield and handed Bremner the captaincy, which he would not relinquish for another 11 years. Maybe this was the plan all along, but upon his return to fitness, Revie didn’t see Collins having the same influence as before, and as Collins himself reluctantly acknowledged, he saw that Bremner and Giles “would be superb together”. Collins was granted a free transfer to Bury in February 1967, satisfied his job was done.

What if he had never signed for Leeds? Revie’s club may have slid from second tier mediocrity to lower-league obscurity, and Bremner, Hunter, Giles et al may never have been the players they were.

In a nutshell: Immense in almost every sense!

Quotes

Billy Bremner to Torino defender Fabrizio Poletti seconds after breaking the thigh bone of his team mate and idol Bobby Collins “I’ll kill you for this!”

Bobby Collins speaking after being operated on in a Turin hospital for his thigh injury “When I came round, he told me that he had reset my shattered thigh bone with a fifteen inch pin and was confident that I would play again."

Jack Charlton on seeing Bobby Collins after his injury: "He smiled when he saw us, and then he said, 'Take a look at this.' … There was a bolt through his leg - not a shiny silver bolt, but something that looked like it came out of a scrapyard."

Billy Bremner on Bobby Collins: "I learned many great lessons from Bobby Collins, not the least being able to take the knocks as well as hand them out and always play the game as a man. They say that one man doesn't make a team - but Bobby Collins came nearer to doing it than anyone else I have ever seen on a football field."

Jack Charlton on Bobby Collins: “Bobby Collins set the standard that you could do anything to get a result, and it rubbed off on all of us. It was win at all costs. And why not?”

Stats

1961/62 11 Apps 1 goal

1962/63 44/9

1963/64 44/6

1964/65 48/10

1965/66 12/0

1966/67 8/0

Total 167/26

Honours with Leeds United

1963/64 Second Division Champions

1964/65 Named FAW Footballer of the Year

International Career

Scotland Caps 31

Scotland Goals 10

Buy Jon's book All White: Leeds United's 100 Greatest Players here.