Footballer and coach

Footballer and coach

Born: February 16, 1931; Died: January 13, 2014

Loading article content

BOBBY Collins, who has died aged 82, was small in stature but a giant of post-war football in Scotland and England.

At 5ft 3ins tall, he was one of the smallest players ever to play first-class football, but as an outstanding winger in an under-performing Celtic team, and later as a combative and influential midfielder with both Everton and Leeds United, he enjoyed a lengthy and successful player. He also won more than 30 caps during a 15-year Scotland career at a time when change for change's sake often seemed to be the watchword of the various SFA selection committees who picked the national team.

Born the eldest of six children in Govanhill, on the south side of Glasgow, Collins attracted senior attention as a teenager with junior side Pollok. Many clubs looked, but passed on account of Collins's lack of height. Everton and Celtic, however, liked what they saw and in 1948 the apprentice cobbler, who was seemingly all set to move to Everton, was snatched from under their noses by a last-minute offer from Celtic boss Jimmy McGrory, who took him to Parkhead.

McGrory's late intervention saw Everton force an SFA inquiry, which found that Collins was an Everton player and censured the Celtic boss. However, the SJFA officials intervened and backed Celtic; Collins then had to re-sign for Pollok, play one game - against Blantyre Celtic, before joining Celtic.

The tiny youngster had an auspicious debut against Rangers in a League Cup sectional tie in August 1948, in which he ran Rangers' veteran skipper Jock "Tiger" Shaw ragged.

These were dark times for Celtic, however, as they toiled in the shadow of Bill Struth's all-conquering Rangers sides of the time. There were still the occasional triumphs to enjoy, though, and Collins played his part in the St Mungo and Scottish Cup wins of 1951, the Coronation Cup triumph of 1953 - during which he memorably scored the only goal of the semi-final, against Arsenal, direct from a corner; the League and Cup double of the following season, although he missed the cup final; the club's first League Cup win, when they beat Partick Thistle in October,1956, and, of course, the "Hampden in the Sun" 7-1 defeat of Rangers in the same final the following season.

Collins represented the Scottish League XI on 16 occasions while with Celtic and made the first of his 31 full Scotland appearances, while still a teenager, in the home international against Wales in late 1950. He was, however, in and out of the side, until in the run-up to the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden, he became one of the key men, playing as an inside forward and contributing some crucial goals, none more so than his winner against Switzerland in Basle, in what was skipper George Young's final international - this was the first of Collins's ten Scotland goals.

He had, however, become increasingly frustrated at the way Celtic was being run and in 1958, after he had impressed in Scotland's unsuccessful World Cup campaign in Sweden, he asked for a transfer. Everton came calling, he moved to Goodison for a fee of £25,000 - £24,000 more than they had offered Pollok for him a decade before - in September 1958.

Bill Shankly was still a year or so from taking charge across the city; Everton were maybe struggling after a poor start to the season, but they were in the First Division, Liverpool in the Second. Collins became club captain, but, while Everton maintained a mid-table First Division presence, there were no trophies to celebrate during his five years at Goodison Park.

He had a good relationship with manager Johnny Carey, but when Harry Catterick succeeded Carey, he made it clear the now veteran Collins did not have a long-term future at the club and he sought to off-load him.

He was then transferred to Leeds United, then propping-up the Second Division. Newly-appointed manager Don Revie had big plans for the Yorkshire club and he saw Collins as the ideal old head to coach his promising youngsters on the park. It was a task to which Collins rose and Leeds were soon back in the First Division, while his on-field coaching worked particularly well with another small Scotsman, a teenager from Stirling's Raploch housing scheme named Billy Bremner.

Leeds won promotion, then stormed to the upper reaches of the First Division and reached the FA Cup Final in 1965, while Collins was honoured as footballer of the year. They lost to an Ian St John goal in the cup final, but, so well had Collins, now 34, played, he was re-called to the Scotland team after a six-year absence, becoming one of the few Scots to play against Wembley while with three different clubs.

In 1966, Leeds were drawn against Torino in a Fairs Cup tie. The first leg, at Elland Road, had been a tousy affair, the second, in Italy, was even worse and Collins received a horrific fracture of his thigh bone which finished his top-flight career.

He battled back but was never the same player again. With Bremner taking over his role of midfield general, he was allowed to leave Leeds, joining Bury.

He then had a short spell back in Scotland as a player-coach with Morton, a period during which he recommended to old gaffer Revie that he sign the young Joe Jordan. He then spent a short period in Australia before returning to England and a player-coach role with Oldham Athletic, before finally running down a playing stint which encompassed 860 games and more than 200 goals, over 25 years, with a spell with Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland, scoring his final goal for them at the age of 42.

He then returned to Leeds as youth team coach. He was a particularly effective mentor to young players, although he had no real success as a manager in his own right during spells with Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Barnsley and non-league Guisley; before his final active spell in football, back as a coach with Leeds. He also had a short spell as a coach at Blackpool.

He then retired to live in Yorkshire with his second wife Betty. He is survived by Betty and his three children: Robert (born to Bobby and his first wife Beryl) and Michael and Julie, his children with Betty.