Saturday, April 25, 2015 is a date that will live long in the memory of Hartlepool United fans.
Against all odds, Pools secured their status as a Football League club thanks to a tension-filled 2-1 win over Exeter City at a buoyant Victoria Park.
Pools had pulled off one of THE greatest ever escapes having been 10 points adrift of safety with less than two months of the campaign to go.
Somehow, they stayed up with a game to spare. Survival meant so much to so many people. There is a great picture of then manager Ronnie Moore celebrating the achievement – flanked by his backroom staff including assistant boss Sam Collins.
Moore has, of course, since left, replaced by Craig Hignett before Dave Jones then took over the managerial hotseat.
And now Collins has left the club too, after almost 10 years of service.
Jones said the decision was made with a heavy heart as Pools look to move in a different direction and change the culture.
Unless you’re Arsene Wenger, nothing stays the same for long in football and players, managers and coaching staff come and go all the time.
But passionate Collins deserves a special mention after serving the club with great distinction since arriving as a player back in January 2008.
No-nonsense, Collins the player took few prisoners.
Danny Wilson signed ex-Port Vale and Hull City defender Collins, with the centre-back going on to make 269 appearances for the club – many of them as captain.
Collins experienced a mixed start to his Pools career – a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Luton was followed by a red card in a defeat at Southend, but he quickly became a regular and fan favourite.
Tough in the tackle and powerful in the air, Collins was a natural born leader and he was named team captain for the 2008-09 campaign.
A reliable and solid performer for Pools in League One and League Two, Collins played for Pools until well into his late 30s – a self-confessed fitness freak, he enjoyed taking part in triathlons as part of his fitness regime.
Young defenders Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess were among the players to speak highly of Collins’ influence during their time at Pools.
With his 20-year playing career winding down, Collins took his first steps into coaching under Colin Cooper back in 2013-14.
He later stepped up to the role of assistant manager under Moore.
Collins remained a part of the coaching set-up when Craig Hignett arrived in February 2016, when he was assigned to look after the club’s Under-21 group.
Collins was also tasked with holding the fort as caretaker boss on three separate occasions; when Cooper resigned, when Paul Murray was sacked and again when Hignett departed.
Collins was the safe pair of hands the club would turn to in times of need, with the promising coach always keen to give the club’s younger players a chance. The 39-year-old was installed as caretaker manager for the third and final time after Hignett’s departure and prepared the team for the 2-0 win over Stevenage before Jones took charge.
In January, Jones told SportMail it was an easy decision to make Collins part of his backroom staff alongside long-time associates Kevin Cooper and Alex Armstrong.
Collins remained at Pools in his role as development coach but has now left the club.
Jones said: “We’re changing the culture and the ethos here and when that happens sometimes there are casualties, sadly.”
Collins is the casualty; a superb and loyal servant to Hartlepool United on and off the pitch for the best part of a decade.
Player, player-coach, development coach, assistant manager, caretaker manager. You name it, Collins has done it.
A real club stalwart.