Memory Lane

Sunday 9 December 2012 09:00

The name John Collins will always bring back fond memories of a fine period in Fulham's history.

The midfielder may have rocked up in SW6 towards the end of his career, but he left an indelible mark on the banks of the Thames.

Collins provided an experienced anchor in Fulham's midfield, with his neat touches and excellent support play providing the best of platforms for his teammates.

He made 27 appearances as Fulham won the (old) First Division crown at a canter in his first season at the Club and was then an integral part of the side that established itself as a Premier League force.

South-West London proved to be Collins' final playing home after a long and illustrious career that began north of the border.

After choosing to focus on football rather than rugby union, Collins played at youth level for Hutchison Vale before being snapped up Hibernian.

The Edinburgh club proved the perfect place for Collins to learn his craft and he stayed there until the age of 22 when his boyhood heroes came knocking.

Collins grew up a Celtic fan and, despite interest from the blue side of Glasgow, did not much persuading to join them, becoming their first million-pound player.

Back in 1990, though, Rangers were the dominant force in Scottish football, highlighted by the fact he won only trophy during his time at Parkhead.

"I knew without a doubt it would be tough when I joined them," Collins told "I knew that 100 per cent. Rangers were signing England internationals and were the biggest payers. I could have gone to Rangers and I spoke to them.

"But when you're a young man and you can fulfill your dream then money kind of gets put on the backburner. Not many people can say they fulfilled their dream at that age and play for the team they supported as a kid. I managed to do that.

"The only disappointing aspect was being second to Rangers. It’s tough being in Glasgow when you’re second to Rangers. However, as a player, the most important thing is to make sure you give a performance yourself week in, week out.

"You go out and give it everything on that pitch and one thing I did at Celtic was give everything. I had a good relationship with the fans and that’s what my memories are.

"There wasn’t so much winning leagues and trophies, but fans singing my name every week and celebrating goals with them. That’s the memories I've got.

"I wouldn't change it for the world, although I would have loved to have won the league. The reality, though, is Rangers had a huge budget and we didn't."

Collins spent six enjoyable, if not successful, years in Glasgow, before packing up his bags and leaving Scotland.

There was a lot of interest in his services, including Rangers yet again, but he plumped for a move to the Mediterranean.

Collins swapped the grandeur of Celtic Park for the barely-filled Stade Louis II in Monaco, where he linked up with Jean Tigana for the first time.

"It was very strange to start with and I had to adapt," the former midfielder said. "What compensated for the lack of crowd and atmosphere was the magnificent team I was playing in.

"Week in, week out the victories were coming so that kind of compensated for that. I learned about better preparation, that players train longer there. They lived their life probably more professionally than British players.

"We played total football, I got even fitter and won the league and got to the Semi-Finals of the UEFA Champions League.

"We beat Manchester United in the Champions League so it was a sensational period in my career."

It was Tigana who would eventually persuade Collins to join Fulham.

"Jean Tigana was a very quiet manager, he never said a lot," Collins said. "He said simple messages like 'get the ball down and play'. It sounds very simple and very basic but that’s exactly what he did.

"He never coached a lot doing loads of drills. He left that to his coaches. He had a philosophy and a way of playing that he transmitted to his players. He had good players so he could do that. Pass and move."

Collins left Monaco in 1998 after appearing for Scotland in the World Cup and joined Everton, but after two frustrating years on Merseyside was again looking for a new challenge.

It was then he linked up yet again with Tigana, dropping down to the second tier for the first time in his career to join Fulham, where he would win the (old) First Division crown in his debut season with the Whites.

"It was immense fun," Collins said. "It was total domination from start to finish, beating every team we played against. We dominated possession, created loads of chances and scored lots of goals.

"The fans loved it as well and we built a strong relationship with them, a close bond. That’s when the fanbase started to grow and it was really when the Club began kicking on.

"Everybody felt something special was happening. Good players were coming in, good players were there. We were so professional in everything we did. Obviously that came with the finance and hiring good people throughout the Club, from the kitmen to the medical team.

"There were five-star buses, great food in the canteen - they were all contributing factors to being a successful organisation. It’s not just one element. All the pieces of the jigsaw were put into place. It was a slick operation and, at that time, there was probably no better run team in England, and I am including Premier League teams."

That base meant that promotion was about more than just staying in the Premier League.

Fulham ended their first campaign back in the big time in 13th, with Collins' experience proving invaluable in midfield.

"There was no feeling within the camp in the pre-season of 'oh, let's survive' or 'oh, we're in the big time'," he said. "There was no worrying about it. The feeling in the camp was 'bring it on - this is where we belong'.

"We had nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. It was an excellent mentality."

Collins went onto make 79 appearances in all competitions during his time at Fulham, with his last appearance coming on the final day of 2002/03 season against Charlton Athletic.

The 1-0 win at The Valley proved to be his last game in professional football and, after a period living back in Monaco, he moved into management.

Collins took over at former club Hibs in October 2006 and led them to Scottish League Cup success, before a spell in Belgium with Charleroi.

Now, as well as working for Sky Sports, he is director of football at Livingston of the Scottish First Division.

"I’m really enjoying it very much," Collins said. "We're building a reputation for total football at Livingston. We’re getting a lot of compliments from all angles throughout the club.

"We’re playing the Barcelona way and it takes time, but we're doing it the right way and training properly. It’s a lot of hard work when you move down to this level, but I’m putting something back into the game and it’s giving me a lot of pleasure.

"Without a doubt I will return to management in the next couple of years. I don't want to look too far ahead as I am enjoying everything. In the future, though, I expect you will see John Collins back in management."

And hopefully we will see John Collins down at Craven Cottage soon, if only to reminisce over some of the most enjoyable times in Fulham's history.