Traditional Christmas is welcomed by Sheffield United’s Neill Collins

HAPPY AGAIN: Sheffield United's Neill Collins. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
HAPPY AGAIN: Sheffield United's Neill Collins. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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IF Neill Collins hears the strains of Wham’s classic Last Christmas over the current festive season, he could be forgiven for turning the music down.

Christmas was not exactly cancelled for the big Sheffield United defender 12 months ago; quite the opposite as he was allowed to indulge a bit when he tucked into his turkey lunch.

But it did not help his sense of festive well-being.

While the Yuletide season is one of the few times in the year when the person in the street can possess a touch of sympathy for those involved in professional football – who have to forego the partying while most of the rest of the country lets their collective hair down – Collins is one of the old-school footballing fraternity who would not have it any other way.

Leaving the excesses to others over Christmas is part and parcel of life in the professional game in England, but the turkey did not go down that well last year for the Scot, after he found himself with Boxing Day off.

It was nothing to do with injury either, but everything to do with a bitter schism with former Blades boss Nigel Clough, who froze him out last season from October 2014 onwards.

Thankfully for his sake a different name is now above the door in the manager’s office at Bramall Lane in Nigel Adkins – with the 32-year-old happy to be back where he is most comfortable, in the heart of the Blades’ defence.

And 12 months after watching tomorrow’s opponents Wigan in a Boxing Day game at former club Leeds United, Collins will now lock horns with them on the pitch on Saturday – the sort of Christmas present for which he is grateful.

He said: “Off the top of my head, last year was the first time I wasn’t involved (playing) on Boxing Day.

“Apart from a few cancellations when I was young at Dumbarton, I have always been involved in starting or from off the bench.

“Last year I went to watch Leeds against Wigan on Boxing Day as I was just so used to being involved with football and I still felt the need to go out and watch a game as it was very hard. I look forward to a lot better (this year) and hopefully playing at Wigan.

“I am a football fan and love to go and watch football and as a wee kid, I used to go and watch Kilmarnock on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day was inevitably a derby game.

“Christmas football was fantastic and when you get to play in those games, the crowds are so good and there’s an extra buzz about it.

“You can enjoy going to watch a game, but when you are playing and go and watch, it hurts so much that you are not actually out there.”

As for his festive experiences on December 25 last year, they were decidedly bittersweet for Collins – the centre-back having plenty to ponder as he ate his Christmas dinner.

This year, he will have to fit in training with his team-mates. But he certainly will not be complaining.

He added: “I just had a normal Christmas Day last year. Even with Christmas Day, if you have children, you still have to make the most of the moment.

But in the back of your head, you are always preparing for a game of football the next day.

“Funnily enough, I am not really a big drinker, so I didn’t indulge in that way last Christmas. But I had a few more Yorkshire puddings.

“It was like when you are looking to the future and you are not maybe playing and you retire. As much as people moan about having to train Christmas Day, you miss more playing on Boxing Day as it is such a great experience.

“Morgs (Chris Morgan) says that in pre-eason you don’t look forward to the running, but that you will miss it when you can’t do it. I won’t be complaining.”

With no sign of any thaw in his relationship with Clough on the horizon towards the end of last year, Collins admits that he felt his future was most definitely away from Bramall Lane in 2015.

Twelve months on and Collins – while conscious that security of tenure as a footballer at a club can soon change – is still on deck at S2 and making up for last time with this year finishing on a much more positive way than how it started.

He added: “I thought at the end of last year with January coming up, that there was probably a fair chance I had played my last game for Sheffield United.

“But I have taken a lot of self-satisfaction that I have managed to come through that.

“Getting to wear the jersey once was an achievement and hopefully I go on and do it a few more times and win a few more games and if I could finish the season with a promotion, then that would be fantastic.

“Not that I ever took it (playing) for granted, but things make you stronger and you appreciate getting back in the team and being involved in the squad and around the lads.”