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23 August 2023

Former defender Simon Collins (back row, top right) played for Huddersfield Town between 1992-1997

- Former Terrier Simon Collins interviewed
- Played for Town between 1992-1997
- Collins spoke to HTSA Heritage for 'The Terrier'

Simon Collins was born in Pontefract on 16 December 1973 and began his career in the youth ranks at Town during the late 1980s. He turned professional in 1992 and became one of the few Town players to play at both Leeds Road and the McAlpine Stadium.

His career with the club began in the youth team: “I came through with George Mulhall and he was a super bloke,” he recalled. “I think Steve Smith was there originally when I was 12 or 13 years old in the schoolboys but he moved on and George was the youth team manager when I first walked through the door as a 16 year old.”

He was soon playing in the Intermediate team. “It was like the Holy Grail to play in the Northern Intermediate team and as a first-year apprentice, there were only a few people who ever got a shot,” he continued. “I think it was a case of, if you’ve got a stature about you, you’ve got a chance to begin with because it was rough and tumble. It was a fierce League, so that was actually harder to play in than the reserves, believe it or not.”

By the early 1990s, a lot of the old-school methods had been phased out of the game, but Collins was one of the last generations of young players to be tasked with cleaning the senior players’ boots.

“Graham Mitchell and Lee Martin were my two,” he remembers. “And you can put this on record, Lee Martin was the tightest person on the planet! The Christmas tip wasn’t very good; I got my own back when he came to Macclesfield when I was there.”

During the 1991-92 season, Collins played some games in the reserves before signing professional terms for the following campaign. That season was a struggle, in the relegation zone from the first match, Ian Ross failed to get a tune out of his side. It was Ross who gave him his senior debut, when in February 1993, he replaced Mark Wright against Leyton Orient. That day he played in midfield, but he had already established a reputation as a versatile player.

“As a kid, I was always a striker or a midfielder, and in the reserves, I think there were a couple of seasons, believe it or not, where I probably had the most goals scored throughout the club,” he went on. “George Mulhall signed me as a striker and then wanted me to play as a central defender in the intermediates, as a 16 year-old. If I remember rightly, he wanted to play three at the back and have me as a sweeper and I actually made my debut for the reserves as a sweeper. Then Ian Ross came in and I played in midfield for him as I made my debut.”

His debut was the only time he played that season. Collins has nothing but respect for Ross, who left Town in July 1993.

“I have the utmost respect for him, I never spoke to him after Town or know what became of him, but I have a lot of respect for him because he gave me a chance,” he stated. “I remember the day, walking down the corridor past the dressing room and he said; ‘you need to be in here, today’ and that was it!

“All he really said to me was; ‘off you go, go and play and try to tackle the big 6’6” striker with dreadlocks!’

“The worst thing for me was when he left the Club in the summer, I was thinking I’d earned the trust of this guy and then when Neil Warnock came in it was a case of having to spend another year earning the trust of another manager.”

Warnock arrived at Leeds Road just 24 hours after Ross left the club. Collins’ first involvement under Warnock came in the Coca-Cola Cup.

“I was 18 or 19 when I’d made my debut against Orient, and then the next game I played after that, I came on as a sub against Arsenal - there you go, there’s a baptism of fire!” he jokes.

Once again, first team opportunities were limited, and he started just one match, where he played up front against Cambridge United in November 1993. After making the odd sub appearance in the Autoglass Trophy, Collins was loaned to Halifax Town in January 1994. He played just three matches before returning after a month and heading out to Hong Kong’s Happy Valley in March.

His time in Hong Kong was successful, and he later returned in October 1994 for a second spell.

“That was unbelievable, it was brilliant,” he says. “I’ve got an FA Cup runners-up medal from Hong Kong, believe it or not.”

After that, he enjoyed a loan spell in Perth, Australia where he represented Western Australia.

At the end of 1993-94, Town said goodbye to Leeds Road, their home of 86 years and said hello to the new McAlpine Stadium.

“When you think about Leeds Road, it’s like a romance,” says Collins. “The wooden stands, the big concrete stand at the other side that we used to run up and down, the Cowshed and then an open end for the away fans to get wet through in miserable weather as well!

“I’ll always remember the changing rooms, the boot room and all the rest of it. It’s a shame some of the kids can’t see that and some of the jobs we had to do around the place. Nowadays, I just imagine it to be all polished, chrome and whitewashed walls with nothing out of place, the boots are hung on racks that’s heating them up for them, they’re not washing balls in a bathtub and stuff like that.

“It’s definitely changed, and for the better because the kids are better looked after now, and I would imagine there’s a lot less injuries based on silly training methods compared to what there might have been in the past. Some of the kids these days are so skilful, they’re athletes as well. They certainly don’t have a Wednesday night in Visage, that’s for sure!”

As the 1994-95 season approached, it was very much a new beginning for the Club and after losing just one of their first 15 games, promotion was looking likely, especially as Town topped the division for large spells.

During the season, Collins struggled for game time, but managed to get into the side at the end of the season.

“I had to earn Neil’s trust,” he continued. “And I did that at the end of the season.”

He played in each of the final four matches of the season, as Town clinched their place in the Endsleigh League Division Two play-offs.

One of those matches was the now-famous away game at Shrewsbury Town, where Warnock went berserk in the changing rooms in full view of the cameras. Collins came on as a half-time substitute and has his own memories of the match.

“The longest slide tackle in the world” he laughs. “I think it was about ankle deep in mud and water. We should never have got beat there either and a draw would have clinched the play-offs. We did it a week later against Cambridge.

“The funny thing about that clip is one of the guys at work was asking how many people had gone nuts in dressing rooms over the years, and I said ‘loads’, and he said that his favourite was ‘the Neil Warnock one’. So I asked him which one and he pulled it up on the screen and played it.”

In the clip, Warnock is seen giving his players what could only be described as a rollicking and Collins is seen getting stripped and ready to come on.

“When that bit came on, I said to him ‘who do you think that is?’ and he couldn’t believe it,” Collins continued. “He said he’d watched the clip 1,000 times and never realised I was in it!”

Warnock continues to fascinate the fanbase almost 30 years later, and these days is a cult hero in the game. There’s been nobody quite like him, before or since, as Collins explains.

“He’s a smart guy, a good reader of characters and a good man manager. I don’t think he’d admit to being the greatest coach in the world, but I think he managed to put people around him that could pass his message on and believed in his philosophy and made it work.

“And there’s nobody more passionate, by the way, when you see him and you hear him in the dressing room, if you can’t get fired up when you’re a player that plays for Neil Warnock then you’ll never get fired up. He was a master of ‘hard work beats talent when talent won’t work hard’, if you didn’t work, he just didn’t have any time for you. If you weren’t willing to run through a brick wall for each other, forget it.

“In the early days, he was eccentric. He had his quirks and his way about him, but I think he’s evolved as a person. I would imagine in his later managerial positions, he was nothing like he was at Town, I guarantee it. The game’s changed so much. But he was great when you were in his team because he just wants to win.

“I have the utmost respect for Neil because he looked after me. There were a few of us, me, Boothy, Rodney Rowe, Si Baldry, Chris Billy and we kind of all came through George Mulhall and Neil Warnock. And I think each of us did alright, one did better than others, but we all did alright and managed to establish ourselves and have a go.”

After beating Brentford in the play-off semi-finals, Town secured promotion to Division One, beating Bristol Rovers 2-1 at Wembley. It would be Warnock’s final hurrah as he resigned eight days later to become manager of Plymouth Argyle.

“That play-off run was something else - the Brentford game away and Wembley, they were just good times,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes.

Warnock’s successor Brian Horton arrived at the club weeks later, which was good news for Collins.

“Brian was brilliant, he basically said ‘you’re in, you’re playing’. I was involved in nearly every single game, he said to me; ‘you’re good enough to play with these boys so go and play’. It was great because it just gives you all the confidence. When we got up into Division One, that was phenomenal, some of the teams that were coming to the McAlpine, it was great to be in and around it.”

Collins was utilised mostly in midfield under Horton, but he still couldn’t shake off the versatility tag completely.

“He played me either as a midfielder or a wide midfielder but every now and again, I played as a striker and believe it or not, I even had two games as a right-back,” he said. “I was versatile, so I could play anywhere other than goalkeeper, I could play most positions, which sometimes is the worst label to have because you’re the scapegoat then! You can be put anywhere, but it was good.”

There were memorable moments too, including scoring against boyhood club Barnsley twice in a week. “It was the best feeling ever because I was a Barnsley fan growing up,” he explains. “I’d stand on a milk crate looking over the concrete wall - it’s the old story, so when I scored against Barnsley it just happened to be at the away end, and I knew where all my mates were.

“It was one of them, where it landed on the halfway line, and I just dribbled it all the way through and then put it through Dave Watson’s legs. And I just looked up and all my mates were stood right behind the goal! I just stood there with my arms up.  It was absolutely brilliant, and it was twice in a week, so whenever Barnsley play Town, that picture comes out on my social media.”

That season, Horton steered Town to eighth in Division One, nine points off the play-offs, quite the achievement in their first season back. Sadly, this wasn’t built on in the 1996-97 season, as Town struggled. They were also hit with an almost-constant injury crisis throughout.

“I’d say that was probably down to bad luck, or maybe we needed a better training ground because the training ground was horrendous, it was a mud pit,” he jokes. “Over the back of the canal, they’d just laid new fields and there were as many stones in it as there were blades of grass. Thankfully we moved into an old snooker club, and we used to get changed and train there, which was a lot better.”

One of the highlights was a Coca-Cola Cup tie in October 1996 with Premier League Middlesbrough, and playing in their new home, The Riverside Stadium. “One of the most memorable times was up at Middlesbrough when Bryan Robson was the manager,” he says. “I won’t use the graphic terminology for some of the stuff that was said but I remember walking out of the changing room door, and the two doors faced each other. And it was Darren Bullock, which there’s no surprise it was him, but he screamed from the back, ‘Come on, they’re not very good these’.

“Just as he said that I walked out the door, and was faced by Ravanelli, Emerson, Juninho, Beck, Schwarzer and it just went on, international after international! I just turned round and said, ‘I hope you’re right’! We kicked off, gave them the ball and didn’t see it again for a bit! I remember Juninho nut-megging Tom Cowan and poor Tom didn’t know whether he was picking flowers up or cutting grass! But they were just a special group of players.”

Town were humbled 5-1 in the match, with Andy Payton getting Town’s consolation goal.

With the transfer deadline looming, and having little involvement with the first team, Collins was transferred to Plymouth Argyle in March 1997, where former Town assistant manager Mick Jones was now in charge. After two years there, he left for Macclesfield Town in 1999 and after a brief loan spell with Shrewsbury Town in 2001, his professional career came to an end.

Collins says he was lucky to get so long out of the game. “Throughout my career, I had 14 knee operations,” he admitted. “The first one was as a 17 year old at Huddersfield, I shattered all the cartilage in my left knee. So, every year, it was either getting cleaned out or something was being fixed. The doctor told me I had 10 years on it, though I managed to get a bit longer.

“So, it was just a matter of time. It was probably the reason for going from striker to finishing off as a defender, so I didn’t have to run around as much, and it probably dragged it on a little bit! I had one of my last operations and the surgeon said if I played again then he was never going to operate on me again!

“I did another two years in non-League and I wouldn’t say I played, as I use that term loosely, but I just had a shirt on! But it was good, I enjoyed it, the camaraderie was good and the team spirit. It was really challenging because the clubs were always trying to generate enough money to keep their heads above water.”

After retiring, he went into management with Ossett Town in 2007. After two years there, he had a spell with Stocksbridge Park Steels, where he managed a well-known name.

“Here’s a sad story for Town; Jamie Vardy was one of the players, so I called the chief scout up [at Town] and said; ‘I’ve got a kid here that you just need to take, he’s on contract with us but he’ll play at any level you want to play him at, he’ll play it’. He was just fearless. Daft as a box of frogs but absolutely fearless. The scout said they already had a striker and they couldn’t take another one. And all Stocksbridge wanted was £3,000!”

A short spell in charge of Bradford Park Avenue in 2010 followed before he left the UK and settled in the United States. He’s still involved in football, something that happened completely by accident, while offering to volunteer with a local club where his kids were playing.

In this role, Collins oversees the elite performers under US Youth Soccer, this covers 100,000 players in 56 leagues and he’s been in the role since August 2021 after previously working at St. Cloud as their Director of Coaching and then Technical Director with EDP Soccer.

He has seldom returned to his home country, but his footballing days are never far from his mind.

“I still flick through the scores on my phone, and I look for certain games. I look for Barnsley, Huddersfield, Plymouth and see how they've all done. They were really good times at Town, it was brilliant.”


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