Flashback: Collins’ journey comes to an end as Leeds start their European adventure

05 Oct 2021 09:33 pm, by YorkshireSquare

Although Bobby Collins was small in stature, he was huge in standing amongst Leeds United’s galaxy of greats, and he was the platform on which Don Revie launched his great sides. Revie paid £25,000 to Everton in March 1962 for the thirty-one-year-old ex-Scotland International, who went on to lift a mediocre club out of the depths of the Second Division to one of the most respected in Europe. He captained Leeds to the Second Division title in 1963-64 and the following season was voted Footballer of the Year as Leeds came close to a League and Cup double, eventually coming runners up in the league to Manchester United.

Leeds were rewarded for their efforts in the league with a place in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, their foray into European football. Leeds negotiated the first leg of their first ever European tie against Torino with a 2-1 win at Elland Road. Syd Owen and Don Revie had already flown to Italy ahead of the second leg on 6th October 1965 and seen their opponents in action and had prepared their soon to become famous dossier on their European opponents. Taking the slender lead into the second leg at the Stadio Comunale Turin, it was to be a night where Leeds began their journey at the top of European football, but a night where Bobbly Collins’ journey with the club would effectively end.

Torino had been re-enforced by the return of Captain and Italian International Georgio Ferrini and the charismatic “George Best of Italian Football” Italian International Outside-Right Gigi Meroni but, after Torino’s Alberto Orlando had missed from close range after just three minutes, the United defence built round the superb Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter repelled everything that the home team threw at them and in the end well merited their draw against all the odds to progress to the next Round.

No amount of planning and research could have prepared United for such a violent introduction to European competition and this game will always be remembered for the fiftieth minute tackle by Torino defender Fabrizio Poletti on United’s charismatic and inspirational captain Bobby Collins, which resulted in him suffering a broken thigh, an injury almost unheard of but the outcome was clear, even though the Italians refuted the intent and execution. Paul Madeley recalled…

None of us had ever experienced just how cynical foreign players could be and it was a really tough battle. One horrendous challenge broke Bobby’s thigh and ultimately finished his Leeds career. We were determined to progress and did incredibly well to come away with a draw, but the occasion was ruined by Bobby’s injury because he was so influential to the side.

Billy Bremner was even more distressed and described the tackle, “I was so upset, I found myself weeping, and had the chance come my way, I would have ‘done’ the player who had so crippled my teammate.” He admitted to losing his head and saying to Poletti, “I’ll kill you for this.” Poletti certainly got the message as he stayed well out of tackling distance for the rest of the match. However, Bremner later observed…

The incident taught me something. I have never since that day gone on to the field with such feelings as I had then. That day, blinding anger and passion got the better of me and obscured my better judgement. If I had tangled with that Italian player in a fight for possession of the ball, I could not have been responsible for my actions. The foul had been so unnecessary and was so obviously vindictive. Bobby had been ten yards from the ball when he had been quite literally jumped on.

Although substitutes had been introduced into English Football for the first time that season, they were still not allowed in European competition and United fought on bravely and managed to hang on to their slender lead, holding the Italians scoreless and the 0-0 draw was sufficient to see United through to the next round.

The horrendous injury sustained by Bobby Collins could have had a profound effect on United, but while he did comeback, playing the last game of the season at Old Trafford, he only played seven more games in the following season. Revie immediately gave Johnny Giles the chance to take on the Collins mantle, bought winger Mike O’Grady from Huddersfield and, bolstered by the return of Jim Storrie from injury and the emergence of the young Peter Lorimer and the start of the conveyor belt of other emerging young talent, United added another few pieces to the Revie jigsaw that would bear fruit in the shape of trophies and the championship in the next few years.

No one could doubt that Collins had played his part in the emergence of United as a force in English and now European football, instilling in the young charges the will to win and never say die attitude of grit and determination which was to be the hallmark of Leeds United teams for years to come. As his young protégés matured they added class to that grit and determination and few teams could live with them in a football sense and only their own pursuit of every trophy and league title to the bitter end eventually became the reason they did win the number of trophies their skill merited.

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mentalcase wrote on 06 Oct 2021 10:03 am

I Met Bobby Collins at a dinner , sat with him Billy and the colossus John Charles, not bad company I must admit, to have his career ultimately finished by that tackle, Bobby didn’t slate the player as one would expect, although he was probably seething on reflection, in my book he kept it to himself , Billy swore a lot, but was a great entertainer, met Billy a few times after that at the old supporters club at Fullerton park, Mr Charles left an incredible effect on me with his posture and values, gentle giant for sure but what a gentleman.
The United side of the very late 60,s early 70.s were probably the best team I saw.