BIG INTERVIEW: Meet new Bamber Bridge boss Joey Collins
When Bamber Bridge supporters break out into a chorus of song next season, it is sure to bring a wry smile to the face of the club’s new manager.
“Joey Collins’ Black and White Army” certainly has a ring to it – especially as the new man in charge at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium has spent the past 31 years serving Queen and Country in the Armed Forces.
Preston born and bred, Collins left his home to join the Army at the age of 16 in the late 1980s.
Over the next three decades, he has combined his military work with his passion for football.
He went on to become one of the most decorated players for the British Army’s national team – playing more than 150 times and later taking over the captaincy.
Following his retirement from playing in 2005 after breaking his leg badly at the age of 33, Collins moved into coaching and became the Army’s national team manager soon after – a position he held for five years.
His footballing exploits within the Army have taken him to many different places in the world – even enabling him to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in football.
“I think I played for the National Army side 160-odd times and captained them for a few years,” Collins said.
“I have been fortunate enough to play football all around the world for the Army.
“I have been to Brazil three times, Australia, Mauritius, Thailand.
“We had some really big tournaments out in Nepal where you would be playing in front of crowds of 35,000. They were big games.
“Then there’s the usual places like Cyprus, Germany, Holland, Belgium.
“I had some really good times, especially as a manager testing my wits against the Germans, who were the Forces champions.
“They would have conscripts and have good professional players in their line-up.
“Brazil would be the same. I have had some unbelievable experiences and been quite lucky in that respect.”
It was while manager of the National Army team that Collins came into contact with the England football team when they were invited to play a friendly in June 2013 against Brazil at the iconic Maracana.
The stadium at the time had recently been rebuilt and reopened in readiness for the following summer’s World Cup.
“We were lucky enough to travel out to Brazil with the England team when they played a friendly at the Maracana,” said Collins, who coaches at Fleetwood Town’s academy.
“We got to meet up with them and we played a friendly game against a Premiership All-Stars team.
“I was the manager of the Army team and I had former England captain Stuart Pearce and Roy Hodgson, who was then the England manager, in the opposition dugout.
“I was with Stuart Pearce for the week while we were out there. We were playing against Gareth Southgate, Gaizka Mendieta, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink – players like that.
“Later we played another game in Slovakia against the Premiership All-Stars and you had former players like Ugo Ehiogu – God rest his soul – in their line-up.”
The link-up between the Premiership All-Stars and the military was instigated by Hodgson to aid charitable causes. The first game was held at Reading’s Madjeski Stadium.
“Pearce was the England Under-23s manager at the time,” said Collins, who is a captain in the Duke of Lancaster regiment and works as a careers manager.
“Psycho himself came in to the dressing room and talked to us about everything that had gone on in his life, the players he had come into contact with.
“Gary Neville came in and talked to us and this was before he did his punditry work.
“He shocked us as to how good he was with the lads in terms of morale.
“Southgate played against us and he’s gone on the big things as England manager.
“They were all just nice people.
“We were all kind of in awe of them, but they were all interested in what we do within the military.”
A former non-league semi-professional player with Havant and Waterlooville, Poole Town and Bath City, Collins is looking forward to getting his teeth into his first managerial job on civvy street.
The 47-year-old was brought to the club earlier this season when he joined the previous boss Mick Taylor’s coaching team.
After a poor run of form led to Taylor offering his resignation, Collins was asked to take on the role alongside first-team captain Matt Lawlor.
In the final few weeks of the season, the pair were tasked with keeping the club in the NPL Premier Division – something which they managed to do as safety was secured in the penultimate game of the season.
The hope now is to build towards the play-offs next season.
“There hasn’t been one team in this division which has to come to our place and really turned us over,” said Collins. “So with the squad we have, and couple of additions, I see no reason why we can’t push towards the play-offs next season.”