Neill Collins' shin guards, originally purchased in 2001 and worn in 552 competitive matches
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 22, 2017) — The long, distinguished career of Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Neill Collins features some truly eye-popping numbers.
Since making his debut for Scotland’s Queen’s Park on March 24, 2001 (16 years ago this week) at the age of 17, Collins has played in 552 competitive club matches. He’s represented 10 different clubs, including 212 appearances for England’s Sheffield United and 24 appearances for the Rowdies last season in his first year with the club.
His career has seen him play in 112 different stadiums across the United Kingdom and North America, from Al Lang Stadium to Manchester United’s vaunted Old Trafford and the home of English soccer, Wembley Stadium.
But upon a detailed inspection, perhaps the most astonishing number of Collins’ career is one...
As in one pair of shin guards.
One solitary, trusty set of hardened plastic shin guards that has carried Collins through all 552 games in 112 stadiums. Collins purchased his shin guards in the Spring of 2001 and has worn them in every match he’s ever played, plus innumerable training sessions, friendlies and scrimmages in the 16 years since.
“They’ve seen a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I’ve worn them twice at Wembley, two of the biggest games of my career and two of the biggest disappointments. It’s quite funny when you put the map together and see that they’ve been with me right from the very start when I was trying to make a career of this and they went to the heights of my career with me. If they could talk, they’d have a few good stories.”
No stadium has hosted the shin guards more often that Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane, where Collins has played 108 matches. Wolves’ Molineux is second with 50 matches. Thirty-three stadiums have hosted just once, including Old Trafford, Aston Villa’s Villa Park, West Ham’s former home at Upton Park and Fulham’s Craven Cottage. See the full list of stadiums and how many times Collins has played in each below.
“I would be so disappointed if I lost them,” Collins said. “My boots can be replaced anytime, I’ve worn lots of boots in my career, but my shin pads are something that I take the most care of. They’ve been with me every club I’ve been at. There have been times where I’ve wondered where they are and my stomach has gone, but I’ve always found them.”
Map of all 112 stadiums in which Neill Collins has played
As a youngster playing in Scotland, Collins had seen that the shin guards professionals wore didn’t much resemble the bulky shin guards with ankle protectors he wore at the time. So he and a teammate went to JJB Sports in Glasgow between training sessions and purchased the pair he wears to this day.
Collins said they’ve actually held up well considering some of the stresses they’ve been put through.
“They’re still in really good shape,” Collins said. “They’ve got the plastic shell and there’s a cushioning bit where you can see, and I can remember, certain tackles that have taken a bit of the cushioning. They’re in good shape overall. Adidas should be proud of themselves.”
While the shin guards might still be in good physical condition, they’re not necessarily something you want to get too close to.
“Recently, I had to take my own gear to a game and I had pretty new boots, but the car smelled dreadful,” Collins said. “I realized it was because my shin pads had been in there overnight on a warm day. My wife had been in the car with the kids and she wasn’t happy.”
Collins' shin guards could make their 14th appearance at Al Lang Stadium when the Rowdies open the 2017 United Soccer League season against Orlando City B on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (727) 222-2000 or click here.