WHEN a 31-year-old professional footballer breaks down in front of the media, that's news. When that footballer points a finger at the very same media, surprise, surprise, it ceases to be a headline maker.
Silence is golden for the cosy cartel of local observers who are paid for a living to report on, among others, Sheffield United. There is a reason for that. Almost all of them are guilty of looking the other way, one in particular, when a story was there to be investigated. Not my words. Read on.
View From The John Street has consistently championed the cause of Blades defender Neill Collins. Ostracised by former manager Nigel Clough, the Scottish centre-half's career was brought to a shuddering halt after a fall-out. A player who had previously made 176 starts for the club he so obviously loves. Collins is not a man who needs to ‘kiss the badge’ to illustrate his loyalty. United fans, even those who may not be his greatest fans, know where his heart is. For that alone he will always be held in esteem at Bramall Lane.
What was the reason for the rift? We don't know. Why was Collins sidelined last October never to be seen in a United shirt again under Clough? We don't know. Why did Clough subsequently claim the player was injured when he wasn't? We don't know although we’ve got a good idea. Why was Collins eventually loaned to Port Vale when United's central defensive woes and lack of leadership had become almost legend? We don't know. Why don't we know? Because local media didn't ask the questions or worse, if they did, chose to trot out the fabricated managerial line anyway like good boys and girls.
Fortunately for Collins, and United, Clough was sacked and new manager Nigel Adkins welcomed the defender back into the fold. When he came on as a late substitute at Morecambe to head an injury-time winner and earn United a Capital One Cup second round tie at Fulham, no-one was left in any doubt what it meant to him. The blood-curdling cry that echoed above the noise of 785 celebrating away supporters in the 2,168 crowd said it all. Ironic, isn't it, that the man shunned by one manager should deliver his successor's first competitive victory.
Quizzed immediately after the tie about why he had been left by Clough to rot for seven months, Collins’ could not control his emotions when he recalled the support he received, especially from his family. The hurt was almost too much to bear as his voice trembled.
He said: “There is no logical answer. I’ve sat at home on plenty of Saturday’s asking the same thing,” before adding: “At the end of the day I’ve acted as professionally as I can which I think has given me the opportunity to be here.
“One of the things that kept me going was I wanted so much to play for Sheffield United. If that hadn’t been the case I could have moved on. I had opportunities to do that. On top of that some of the people at the club have just been invaluable. I mean like everyday staff at the club. People like supporters of the club who work there.
“On top of that the fans. Throughout the time the amount of letters and people who have encouraged me to stick at it. Ex-players are including in that as well. People whose opinions you really care about.”
Then came the telling, devastating sentence. “To be honest I think these questions should have been asked a bit more at the time. There are some people who could have asked a wee bit more about it. I think there’s a lot of people who looked the other way when I think it was there job to be a bit more forceful.” (Ed, was that James Shield of The Star I saw blushing in the background?)
Collins continued: “People will know I’ve got my weaknesses but I think they know I’ve got strengths and my time at Sheffield United I think we had the best defensive record for two years running. To just kind of fall away like that was a wee bit disappointing and let go by the wayside, particularly when I know I could have helped the team. At the end of the day I’ve come through it and I’m a much stronger person.”
That very clear quote was translated into a few miserly words in the last paragraph of a six-paragraph story written by Shield on the back page of The Star under the headline ‘Collins’ emotional moment’ when it claimed he actually said: “Perhaps questions should have been asked more at the time” Ten altered words buried at the bottom of a story that nobody really wanted to report. Absolutely shameful journalism at its very worst.
Shield, of course, isn’t the only perpetrator but as the only one dedicated to observing United he is by far the biggest culprit. In the coming weeks and months don’t be surprised to read or hear sycophants coming out of the woodwork to say what a great guy Collins really is and commend his strength of character to weather a storm and come out the other side so gracefully.
Fortunately, Collins is no mug. He clearly knows, to their embarrassment and shame, who they already are. So do I. View From the John Street is watching.