When Don Revie's Leeds United men brought glory days to Elland Road they were standing on the shoulders of a giant
Leeds United’s Revie Boys were standing on the shoulders of a giant when they brought the glory days to Elland Road.
That giant was just 5ft 3ins tall, wore a size four boot and was supposedly entering the twilight of his career when he arrived at United in 1962 as a 31-year-old.
But Bobby Collins did not leave the Whites for another five years and by the time he departed for Bury in February 1967, he had cemented a place in the club’s folklore by helping them to avoid relegation, captaining them to a Second Division title and leading a charge to second place in the First Division and an FA Cup final.
He also built the foundations for the glorious years to come.
The influence of the Scottish midfielder was felt both during and after his time in the white of United and made him, in Eddie Gray’s eyes, Leeds’ most important player, in an era full of legends.
Collins’ presence made an immediate impact on a 16-year-old Gray.
“When I first came to the club I realised what an inspiration he was,” said the winger, who went on to make 454 league appearances for United.
“Bobby was the main man at the football club.
“It’s no secret, Don has been on record himself, and he signed a few good players including Johnny Giles and Allan Clarke, that he felt Bobby was probably his greatest ever signing.
“Probably one of the best signings made in British football, never mind for Leeds United.
“I played with great players, there were great players even before our time, but I don’t think there’s ever been a more important player who has walked through the gates than Bobby.”
Collins had already been a league title winner with Celtic and played 133 top-flight games for Everton, but he did not come to Leeds to merely see out his final footballing days.
“He was supposed to be coming to Leeds in the twilight of his career and he ended up taking the club from the old Second Division into the First, challenging for the title, getting to the ’65 cup final,” said Gray.
His diminutive size was no barrier to bossing a game or dominating an opposition midfield, a burning desire to compete and to win more than making up for what he lacked in stature.
“On the football pitch he was a giant,” said Gray. “He was a fierce competitor. The game was a bit different then, it was a little bit more physical then and Bobby would stand up to everybody.
“There was no way anyone could bully him out of a game.”
The tag of midfield general did not just stem from his combative nature, Collins could play – a fact happily recognised by the other side of one of Leeds’ fiercest rivalries.
“Bobby shirks nothing; they never come too big for him, but it is his football brain that makes him invaluable,” said Matt Busby.
Gray recalls watching in awe with other youngsters as Collins would bend free-kicks into the net.
He was a player who got the best out of others, forming a particularly effective partnership with outside-left, Albert Johanneson.
He brought others into the game and he kept everyone on their toes.
“He never gave us a minute, because he was always telling us to do this, and do that, and do something else,” said Billy Bremner.
Collins was, evidently, the leader’s leader.
By the time Bremner, Gray and Leeds United had won two First Division titles, two European Fairs Cups, an FA Cup and a League Cup, Collins had departed Elland Road, an horrific injury sustained against Torino in 1965 in his own words ‘effectively ending’ his Leeds career.
But the ‘Wee Barra’ had left such a big mark on the club that Gray gives him credit for setting United on the path to glory.
“When he first came to the club they were fighting for survival and once they did that and got the ball rolling, all the players bought into Don’s beliefs and he was a great believer in Bobby.
“He made sure you knew what was expected. He made sure that there was that competitive, winning mentality at the football club.
“I think Bobby was the man who turned them into a winning team.
“Bobby was the man helped get it all started.”
Collins, who passed away in 2014, will receive the same Freedom of the City Award that Leeds City Council will today bestow on the Revie boys, the players of the club’s finest era, in a civic reception.
He will be in the thoughts of his former team-mates.
“It’ll mean a lot to me [to represent players who have passed], especially two of the most inspirational characters in the history of the club, namely Bobby and Billy,” said Gray.
“All of my team-mates will all be thinking about the players who aren’t with us.
“It’s a great honour for all the team.
“There were a few boys brought up as Leeds boys themselves, it’s fantastic for them.
“It means everything from a personal point of view but, more to the point, to the team, the city.
“You look back with fondness at your time with those players, I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to play with them.”