This season we have been reflecting on 10 Years at Oteley Road - to celebrate this we will be bringing you an exclusive interview with a player from the last decade. Today it is James Collins!
With two promotions to his name and the most goals scored at the new stadium, it perhaps comes as no surprise that James Collins was at the top of many people’s lists for the best striker of the last 10 years.
In total he scored 48 goals in 154 appearances across two separate spells but, as James explains, it was only thanks to the work of Graham Turner and John Trewick that he even joined Shrewsbury as a 20-year-old.
“I didn’t really want to leave Villa if I’m honest”, Collins told Town Talk.
“I was on-loan at Burton, but I didn’t really know too much about the Football League. I then came and met John Trewick and Graham Turner and they just made me feel special. They knew everything about me and they’d been watching me for a long time.
“I had a look around and the stadium was impressive, so I just thought ‘why not?’. I had to get out into the real world and I signed my 18-month deal and the rest is history.
“I was never going to get in the first-team at Villa because they had so many good strikers at the club and there were so many lads that were ahead of me in the pecking order, so I thought ‘why not go out and make a name for myself in the lower leagues’ and Shrewsbury was the perfect opportunity to do that.”
Collins made his debut in a 3-1 defeat against Morecambe, but it was away at Accrington Stanley that he first showed the Town fans what he was capable of.
“I remember it all really well”, said James.
“I scored a header from a corner for my first goal and that made it 1-1 after Terry Gornell had actually scored their goal, and then the second one was a through-ball and I dinked the goalkeeper. To get a couple of goals that quickly settled me right down.”
Town missed out on the promotion at the end of that season after losing to Torquay United in the Play-Offs, but the following season was a different story, as James explains.
“Some good experienced players came in like Joe Jacobson, Terry Gornell and Marvin (Morgan), so we just had a good group”, Collins said.
“We were so good at home and then we were nicking stuff away from home as well. It was just one of those seasons where everything went right and I managed to get my first promotion.
“I think we went away to Macclesfield on a rainy night and won and that was when we knew that one more win would be it and that was the Dagenham game.”
That promotion season also included a good run in the League Cup and on one night at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal, Collins wrote himself into the Shrewsbury Town history books.
“It’s definitely the best goal I’ve ever scored”, James said of his opener against the Gunners.
“Not because of the goal itself because it was a simple goal, but the whole stage of being at the Emirates, going 1-0 up, 5,000 Shrewsbury fans, it was surreal really.
“I’ve still got the shirt in my house framed with the picture of me scoring the goal and that will stay in the games room forever.”
James ended the promotion season as Town’s top scorer with 16 goals in all competitions and he believes confidence was the key to his success.
“The Gaffer made me feel like the main man”, James said.
“He said that I was the one that he needed to score the goals and, with me, once I score one then I often score in little flurries.
“I struck up a good partnership with Terry Gornell and then we had Wrighty on one wing and Lionel on the other.
“It was just one of those seasons where we were winning games and everyone was full of confidence.”
Town had been promoted to League One alongside Swindon Town who were then managed by Paulo Di Canio and Collins explains why he decided to make the move from Shropshire to Wiltshire.
“I didn’t have my heart set on leaving Shrewsbury, it was just that I was out of contract and I had a couple of offers, one from Coventry and one from Swindon”, admitted James.
“I went and met them both and I was honest with Graham Turner and said to him that I’d met the two clubs and that I really liked what they’d had to say.
“He wasn’t angry or anything like that. He understood my decision and he knew that for my development it was probably a good decision, and in the end it probably was because we went onto finish in the Play-Offs in League One.”
James then endured a difficult year with Hibernian before returning to Shropshire just two years after he had left. James remembers his return.
“It was a completely different side”, said Collo.
“There were young lads in the first-team like Connor (Goldson) and Woodsy (Ryan Woods) that had been in the youth team the first time I had been here and now they had grown into men, which was really strange.
“I came to meet the Chairman and the Gaffer (Micky Mellon) and the Chairman just asked me what it would take to get me because he wanted me there, which was really nice to hear, and there was only one place I wanted to be.
“The Gaffer made it clear that he wanted to go straight back up and that was going to build a side and the Chairman was going to back him, and the proof was in the pudding because we did exactly what he wanted.
“He brought in some good experience and some good quality, and that team was one of the best team spirits I’ve had. We all got on and we all wanted to win for each other, and it was a recipe for winning games.”
Not many Shrewsbury players can say that they have had two promotions with the club and Collo admits that they were special to be a part of.
“The first one I was still really young and I didn’t really take it all in because I thought there were going to be loads of them, but you quickly realise that you have to work for them”, said James.
“The second one was the one that I cherish the most because it was my best goal scoring season, it was the better team out of the two, I thought, and I felt a really big part of it.
“Micky was more hands on and friendlier - he was more like your mate. Graham Turner was much more distant, but he was very thorough and you knew that you didn’t want to let him down.
“It was different but both worked their magic and both got the job done, so I wouldn’t say either was better than the other because they both did what they were there to do.”
James’ time at Town actually ended on a bit of a sad note as he was loaned out to Northampton Town in the season that followed the promotion, but he only has fond memories of his time at the Meadow.
“The fans were brilliant with me both times and if I ever get chance to go back and play at Shrewsbury I hope they will be welcoming because they were brilliant with me”, Collins said.
“The Chairman was a top man, a really nice fella, and I’ve still got friends at the club like Skitty, Sads and Abs, so I really hope they go onto get promoted this year.”