Occasionally, Joey Barton will walk into a team meeting at Bristol Rovers and start by saying: ‘Guys, I know this is going to sound barmy…’
The assembled players can then get a deep introduction to a philosophical concept – one from last year concerned “Jungian archetypes about embracing fear.”
Or the squad can hear something about football history, such as Franco Baresi and the Italian defense school.
Aaron Collins is enjoying a prolific season in League One after helping Bristol Rovers win promotion in the most dramatic fashion in May
Rovers manager Joey Barton does not shy away from drawing on non-football topics to inspire his players
Barton believes in expanding minds and horizons, and his holistic approach is paying off at Rovers. One of those who has fully bought into his methods is Welsh striker Aaron Collins, currently in the form of his life.
“We do things that the word he uses is ‘barmy,’ but he believes in it and it’s gotten him to where he is today,” Collins says. Sportsmail.
“He brings out certain things with the team and individuals. If you don’t believe, he’s obviously trying to make you believe. If you believe, he feels that he has brought everyone to the same page.
“He knows everyone is sitting there thinking, ‘what did the gaffer just say?’
“But then, he’ll explain himself and say, ‘Guys, I know this sounds tough, but that’s how I work and that’s how I want the team to work as well.’
Collins won the Vertu Motors League One Player of the Month award for October in a fan vote
Collins played a key role in Rovers’ promotion last season when they beat Northampton Town
– Last season, when we lost 4-1 away to Exeter at the end of August, he came out and said we should move up. Everyone was asking “why is he saying that with the way we’ve started the season?”
“But by December or January, everyone believed.”
It was certainly a campaign Collins, 25, will never forget. It took him 19 games to get his first goal in Rovers colors after signing from Forest Green, a frustrating three months in which he had to draw deep on Barton’s reserves of faith and patience.
But 18 goals, a breathless climb into the third automatic promotion spot in League Two and one of the most dramatic final days in history later, Collins found himself swinging beer on top of a traffic light as hundreds of angry fans egged him on.
The Welsh striker is seen in action against his former club Forest Green after moving in 2021
That goalscoring form has transferred seamlessly into League One, with Collins netting 11 times in 21 games so far and winning the Vertu Motors PFA League One Player of the Month award for October in style.
Of course, League One has continued anyway during the World Cup, and Barton’s side beat Port Vale on Saturday – thanks to a late Collins winner – to climb to 12th in the table.
They host MK Dons in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night.
“I finished last season full of confidence and happiness with the promotion and going into this season it’s just flowed,” says Collins.
– There have been times when League One teams have been interested, but the managers have never really trusted me. They didn’t know if I could go up to the level etc.
Collins scores Bristol Rovers’ sixth goal against Scunthorpe on a dramatic final day
“I’ve played a lot of my career in League Two and after getting promoted it was like ‘right, I’m in League One’. It was time to prove that I could perform in League One and maybe higher.
“The gaffer makes you believe in a lot that you don’t think is possible at the time, like he had faith in me and I came through and finished top scorer. So I have played as well as I could this season.
It is certainly worth reminiscing about the extraordinary League Two final day in May that returned Rovers to the third tier at the first time of asking.
Before kick-off Rovers needed to better Northampton Town’s result or win by five goals more than their promotion rivals to take third place. The chances seemed slim to say the least.
“We only got two goals in the first half and we came in at half-time and we saw they were 3-0 up so we knew we needed six or seven,” Collins recalled.
At that point, Collins looked over to the bench and was told the team had to score one more
Russo and Akpom among November PFA winners
Alessia Russo won the Vertu Motors PFA Player of the Month award for November in the Women’s Super League.
The Manchester United striker scored in his games against Chelsea and Arsenal to top the supporters’ poll.
In the championship, Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom emerged victorious after contributing goals in each of the team’s four games before the World Cup break.
This included goals against Hull City, Bristol City and Blackpool.
Louie Sibley won the League One award for November after helping Derby remain unbeaten, while Bradford City’s Andy Cook was best in League Two after scoring three in three games.
Manchester United striker Alessia Russo was named the best player in the WSL
Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom was named November’s best player in the Championship
– Everyone knew that even if we didn’t get the six or seven goals, we knew that what we had done was good enough.
“We got ourselves from 16 on January 1 challenging for automatic promotion, so we knew it was good enough and this was just the cherry on top.
“To score seven was a miracle – but we went and did it.
“I remember scoring the sixth goal. In my head I was like “we need another one”. I looked over to the bench and I remember the gaffer going “calm down” and raising his finger to say “we need another one” [because Northampton had conceded and were only leading 3-1].
“Then Elliot Anderson scored the seventh goal and all the fans came running onto the pitch. We went into the dressing room as the pitch was being cleared and we saw Northampton had finished 3-1 and we were promoted if we didn’t concede in the last 10 minutes.
After what seemed like an eternity, the final whistle marked Rovers’ return to League One and sparked another pitch invasion. Jeff Stelling described the feat as “mission impossible” on Football Saturday.
The rest of the day is something of a blur for Collins.
Jubilant supporters invaded the pitch after the seventh goal, causing a delay until the end
Barton had claimed from an early stage in the season that Rovers would gain promotion
“There were five or six of us, we left the stadium, we went down the nearest road and saw about a thousand fans in the street, and we went and enjoyed ourselves,” he says.
“The fans, they’re there all season, they pay their hard-earned money to come and support us, so we could pay them back by getting promoted.
“Being at Gloucester Road with the fans was something I’ll never forget. I don’t quite remember how or why I got up on the lamp post, but the adrenaline and the alcohol, I wanted a good night to celebrate! Fans were handing out drinks left, right and centre.
The video clip of Collins on top of the traffic lights remains a fixture on his Twitter feed and he was recently surprised that a die-hard fan had immortalized the moment outside the Royal Oak pub by getting it tattooed on his leg.
“I’m like ‘what the hell? How does this even happen?” The picture has entered the legend books, a great moment for me and the club.’
It certainly justified the striker’s decision to return to Rovers, where he played in the youth ranks between the ages of nine and 15 before signing for hometown club Newport County.
Such had been his start to life in League One, there were whispers Collins could earn a surprise call-up to Wales’ World Cup squad, despite not having a senior cap.
It was always a bit far-fetched, but he certainly hasn’t ruled out the prospect as Rob Page looks towards Euro 2024.
– I never expected to be called up to the WC squad. “If that had happened it would have made my life, but at the end of the day they had so many better attacking players playing in the Premier League and the Championship,” he said.
“I knew I had done well, put my name in the hat, but I didn’t really expect it.
– It would be a dream for me to play for my country at first team level. Hopefully I can now continue my form and go into next year and try to qualify for the EC in March.’
It’s certainly not “barmy”.