Whiter than white

Friday 21 December 2001

Fulham midfield general John Collins insists the fashionable west London club will not be dragging soccer further into the gutter this Christmas.

With tales of footballers' drunken exploits dominating the news and sport pages every day this week, Collins has questioned the need for players to "have 20 pints and be falling about".

Jean Tigana's side bid to haul their season back on track at Middlesbrough on Saturday after their eight-match unbeaten run in the league came to an abrupt end with Saturday's 4-0 battering at Tottenham.

And former Scotland international Collins, 33, is delighted his team is not dogged by controversy as the players prepare for the hectic festive period.

"I don't think we'll have those sort of problems," said Collins.

"It's only a night out and you've got your whole life to have nights out when you've stopped playing. What's the point? There's too much to lose and not enough to gain.

"Football players are in the limelight, so if you step out of line it's front page and back page headline news.

"We have certainly been told we have to watch what we eat and drink over this period, because preparation is vital and can be the difference between winning and losing.

"I presume all managers are saying the same things to their players - but whether their players take it on board is another thing. There are four games in a short period of time, so if the preparation isn't done properly, it could prove costly.

"We're professional footballers and athletes, so we've got to look after our bodies. All our boys know that and look after themselves."

The Club's Christmas party was a mild-mannered affair held away from the public eye at the club's Motspur Park training ground last Thursday.

Collins said: "We had a nice Christmas night out with our wives and girlfriends. It was nice and sensible - but still enjoyable, as you don't need to have 20 pints and be falling about to enjoy yourself. I certainly don't anyway, and have never needed that. Maybe some people do.

"We had a nice meal and a drink. Some of the boys went on to a club with their wives, while some went home. We had training at 9.30am the next day, so not too many stayed out too late.

"And it's easy to spot somebody on the training pitch who's been on a good night out. You can spot it a mile away."

The former Monaco and Everton midfielder also revealed his team-mates' "embarrassment" at their White Hart Lane drubbing, which has sparked renewed resolve in the Cottagers camp.

"It was a disappointing game and an embarrassing result - the heaviest defeat since I've been at the club," added Collins.

"They took their chances and we didn't - and we have to learn from our mistakes. We watched the video, and looking at the mistakes we made speaks louder than words.

"We have to make sure it never happens again. I'd like to think there's only one way we're going to react - and that's positively. We want to put it right against Middlesbrough, and as they're just behind us in the league, it's an important game."

Assistant manager Christian Damiano added: "Middlesbrough have improved after a difficult start. Their team has a good possibility of scoring through Alen Boksic, who is a good striker. They're at home and it will be a difficult game."

Fulham have Luis Boa Morte available after his three-match ban for being sent off in the 2-0 victory against Everton a fortnight ago was overturned by the Football Association.

Steve Marlet faces three more weeks in the treatment room before he can plan his comeback from a compressed fracture of the knee.