With a diminished role in the team and Father Time knocking on his door, Scotland and Fulham midfielder John Collins called it a day in 2003. It had been a good career for Collins and he was deserving of a nice retirement.
Then, on 31 January 2004, a name began appearing on the teamsheet – John, Collins. Surely not?
It wasn’t. In one of football’s strangest coincidences, Fulham boss Chris Coleman‘s search for a new striker landed him on an 18-year-old Dutch talent named… Collins John. It was too good to be true. John was even presented to the Fulham fans by Collins. Or is that supposed to read Collins was presented by John?
Either way, Coleman was delighted. January had seen him lose 15-goal Louis Saha to Manchester United and left him with just new signing Brian McBride, Barry Hayles and Facundo Sava as striking options. Fulham were seventh in the league though, just two points behind Newcastle in fourth and now had additional firepower.
Fulham would finish 2003/04 in ninth (playing at QPR’s Loftus Road as well) with John playing eight times in the run-in and bagging four goals. There was no doubt he was raw but he was only 18 and the return was impressive. Impressive enough for his only two international caps from the Netherlands at the beginning of the following season.
2004/05 saw Coleman’s side continue to plod along at a steady rate, led by the force of McBride up top and marshalled by Edwin van der Sar at the back. John would see fairly regular time off the bench but only returning six goals in all competitions. Still, time was on his side.
2005/06 would be the season Collins John really made his name in the Premier League. Playing 38 games in all competitions, John would bag 13 goals and be the club’s top scorer at the end of the season despite only starting 18 games. The highlight was undoubtedly his goal in the 3-2 defeat away at Middlesbrough.
A Niclas Jensen throw from the left was volleyed into John by Sylvain Legwinski and the Dutchman controlled the ball high on his chest before hitting a dipping volley on the spin over Brad Jones in the Boro goal. It was a moment of magic from John and was a contender for Goal of the Season (1:08 in the video below for that goal).
Unfortunately, the summer of 2006 is where the Collins John story begins to unravel. John would spend the summer looking on from the bench as the Dutch under 21s won the European Championship before he began to misfire at club level. In truth, Fulham were misfiring and John only managed one goal all season.
Coleman, the manager who had believed in him, was sacked in April with the club flirting relegation and a hamstring issue picked up in Coleman’s penultimate game saw John miss the run-in where Fulham just about survived. Caretaker Lawrie Sanchez was given the job thanks to their survival and it became very apparent he had no place for Collins John.
John would make just three substitute appearances under Sanchez as Fulham continued to struggle and the Dutchman was sent on loan to Leicester City in the Championship. His three months saw him score just twice for the Foxes in 11 appearances and, despite Sanchez being ousted in December, new boss Roy Hodgson sent John packing temporarily to Watford. Injuries plagued him at Vicarage Road with a measly five appearances to his name.
Hodgson was clearly not impressed in pre-season in 2008 by John and he sent him out on loan once again, this time to Dutch side NEC Nijmegen. John’s nightmare continued as he played just seven times, scoring once and seemingly have more fights with Mario Been than he did minutes on the pitch. By March, John and NEC had agreed to terminate the loan as neither side liked the other and he sat out his contract at Craven Cottage.
And so the summer of 2009 harkened a fresh start for Collins John. Three years removed from the end of his best season in a Fulham shirt and here he was on the football scrapheap with a mere 26 games and three goals to his name in two seasons. He was not even 24 for another few months either so there was time on his side once again. His next move would be crucial.
He chose Belgian side Roeselare.
John would play just 11 games in the Pro League before being demoted to the reserves by manager Dennis van Wijk for ‘disciplinary issues.’ Two weeks after that demotion, he was released by the club. It was only five-and-a-half months into a two-year contract.
John did not have to wait long for work. MLS side Chicago Fire offered the former Dutch international a trial in January 2010 and signed him soon after. The prevailing thought seemed to be that, with ex-Fulham teammate McBride in Chicago, he’d be able to regain his confidence but that never really worked out. The talent was there but it just seemed the desire wasn’t. Three goals (including the free-kick below) in 17 wasn’t enough for him to stick around into the 2011 season.
John was out in the cold again. A brief stint in Azerbaijan under Tony Adams at Gabala yielded three goalless appearances before a stint in Iran with Mes Sarcheshmeh saw him four games without a goal.
A 2012 transfer to Northern Cypriot side Genclik Gucu would have been another interesting footnote had it not fallen through but that pales in comparison to his next move. On 22 September 2012, it was announced that former Netherlands international Collins John had signed for… Barnet!
Not only was John now back in the public conscience on English soil but he was also at a struggling League Two side as well. He was joined by a new player-manager called Edgar Davids in October. Davids’ debut match was also John’s debut and it lasted all of 15 minutes before he went off injured. One other appearance was all she wrote for John who was out the door at Underhill by January.
He’d have to wait six months until another chance came when, after a trial at Go Ahead Eagles in the Netherlands, he joined Polish side Piast Gliwice. Unsurprisingly, he played just twice before leaving after a short, and goalless, spell. John’s last professional stint was in the US with USL Pro side Pittsburgh Riverhounds (where he bagged five goals in 13) but that was also short-lived.
John’s final notable action came during pre-season in 2014 when Crawley Town offered him a trial. A goal against Brighton certainly put himself in with a shout of a deal but, in the end, nothing really came of it.
I would love to tell you what Collins John is up to now but, truth be told, I’ve scoured the internet and can only find information up to 2014. It seems fitting though as the career of Collins John just suddenly shuddered to a halt.
By the age of 22, Collins John had played 108 games for Fulham and scored 23 goals. In the 11 years since John has managed 75 games and scored 11 goals.
The story of Collins John is an all too familiar one in football. A promising young talent on the cusp of a good or great career destroyed by a host of factors. In John’s case, injuries and attitude were likely the main culprits.