BOBBY COLLINS, the Leeds United captain, who has died aged 82, was once described by manager Don Revie as “our greatest ever buy”.
The Scot moved to Elland Road in March, 1962, for a transfer fee of £25,000 – around £400,000 in today’s money – and was regarded as the foundation on which all United’s success under Revie was built.
Collins, born in Glasgow on February 16, 1931, started his career at Celtic and was known affectionately by the club’s supporters as “The Wee Barra” AS he was just 5ft 4in.
He would go on to make 320 appearances for Celtic, scoring an impressive 116 goals, and was a big part in the post-war triumphs that preceded Jock Stein’s arrival as manager.
The pinnacle of Collins’s time in Scotland was Celtic’s 1953-54 League and Cup double triumph, although he also won another Scottish Cup and the League Cup once.
Transferred to Everton in 1958 – with suggestions locally that the £25,000 fee was used to finance new floodlights at Parkhead – Collins remained at Goodison Park for four years.
No trophies were won during that period, which saw the diminutive Scot make 147 appearances and scored 48 goals. But Collins was still remembered fondly by fans of the time, with current Everton chairman – and lifelong supporter – Bill Kenwright paying his own tribute earlier this week.
He said: “I am extremely saddened to hear of the death of one of my idols. Bobby Collins helped transform the club from the minute he arrived at Goodison Park in 1958 as our record signing.
“He was pivotal and inspirational during his four seasons with the Blues and will never be forgotten by our fans and everyone at Everton Football Club.”
At 31, Collins career appeared to be winding down when he accepted the offer to join Leeds United.
The fee was identical to that paid four years earlier by Everton and there were many sceptical in Leeds as to whether the Scot would be worth the money.
Don Revie, however, was not one of them and immediately made Collins captain. His impact was felt straight away, a debut goal from the Scot helping United to a 2-0 win over Swansea Town that kick-started an upturn in form that led to the Yorkshire club escaping relegation to the Third Division on the final day of the 1961-62 season.
Two years later – and with Collins very much the inspirational figure to the likes of Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Paul Reaney and Norman Hunter – Leeds were back in the First Division.
The momentum from lifting the Division Two title continued into 1964-65 as United only missed out on the title by the slimmest of margins, goal average, after Revie’s side and Manchester United had finished level on 61 points.
A week later, Leeds lost 2-1 in the FA Cup final to Liverpool. It meant a season that promised so much had ended with Revie’s men empty-handed.
There was one honour that came United’s way, however, with Collins, at the age of 34, being named Footballer of the Year. To cap a remarkable renaissance in his career, Collins also earned an international recall from Scotland, six years after last playing for his country.
Collins made three appearances for Scotland at the end of the 1964-65 season. He wouldn’t, though, make any more with a cruel injury – he suffered a broken thigh in an ill-tempered Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie in Turin against Juventus – all but ending his career at the top level.
The Scot did make eight more appearances for Leeds, taking his overall tally for the Yorkshire club to 167. But he was not the same player and moved to Bury in the summer of 1967.
Further spells playing for Greenock Morton, Ringwood City in Australia and Oldham Athletic followed. As did a career in management, as Collins took charge of Huddersfield Town (1974-76), Hull City (1977-78) and Barnsley (1984-85).
It is, however, his six years as a player with Leeds United that Collins most fondly remembered for by a generation of football fans.
Small in stature he may have been but Bobby Collins was a true giant of the game.
His funeral will take place at Leeds Parish Church on Thursday January 30, at noon.