We should, to kick things off, talk about the penalties. On big occasions, Adam Collin made a habit of saving them, whether for Workington Reds, Carlisle United, Rotherham United or...pretty much anyone else he played for.

“I just think it’s down to confidence,” says the goalkeeper, who has retired at the age of 37. “In penalty shoot-outs I was always confident I could read people quite well. Obviously you need a bit of luck along the way…”

Collin’s skill when facing shots from the 12-yard mark left a significant imprint on the clubs for whom he played. One such occasion was in 2010’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern final second leg between Carlisle and Leeds, when a dramatic night overflowed at the Warwick Road End. 

The big Cumbrian settles into the story. “Lenny Pidgeley played in the away leg, so I never expected to play at Brunton Park,” he says. “When I arrived at the club that night, I remember Lenny coming into the dressing room, not looking very happy. 

“I then got pulled out and got told I was playing. ‘Oh, wow…’ 

“I didn’t have much time to prepare. It was a great game against a big club. To make the two saves and win it…the pitch invasion, the celebrations…it was a hell of a night. When fans look back, that one must stand out as one of best nights at Brunton Park over the last 10-20 years.” 

Collin defied Bradley Johnson and, latterly, Shane Lowry to send United to Wembley. It was a boisterous occasion but the keeper was clear-minded. “You’ve just got to zone out if you can,” he says of the shoot-out madness. “I got more nervous when our lads were taking them than when I was in goal. 

“Johnson was trying to give me the eyes to the opposite corner, but I gambled and saved it. The Warwick was going mental to my right-hand side, but I just zoned out, focused on my job. That’s all you can do. When I saved from Lowry…I sometimes lose count in a shoot-out but I had a feeling it was the last one if I saved it.

"I jumped up, saw the boys running towards me, they hit me and 10 seconds later the whole of the Warwick was on your back. Proper special occasion.” 

Collin had to rebuild a promising young career in order to enjoy such occasions along the way. After starring as a young keeper for Castletown in Penrith, the kid from Great Salkeld was picked up by Blackburn Rovers the season after they’d won the 1995 Premier League title. After three years at Ewood Park, he joined Newcastle and stardom seemed to await.

“Training with the likes of Alan Shearer day in day out was quite mindblowing really,” says Collin, who became a teenage understudy to Shay Given and Steve Harper. “I used to go in when he wanted to practice penalties. I even saved one – that’s a little claim to fame.”

News and Star: A teenage Collin pictured after joining Newcastle United (photo: Loftus Brown)A teenage Collin pictured after joining Newcastle United (photo: Loftus Brown)

Collin also faced stars like Craig Bellamy, Kieron Dyer and Gary Speed, and was included in the squad for a Champions League game against Juventus. He benefited from the coaching of Simon Smith and Adam Sadler, but the addition of fellow Cumbrian Tony Caig to the Magpies squad put an extra keeper in Collin’s path. His opportunities in the reserves, which had earlier brought opportunities against opponents such as Manchester Untied and Roy Keane, were now limited. Eventually he was released.

“It was tough,” he says. “From being hyped up as the next best thing at a top team in the Premier League, it was a case of, ‘what do I do next?’” Collin says he fell out with his agent, who recommended he pursue trials, because he decided instead to come home and seek first-team football at non-league level. 

“I'd been away from home for a few years, and towards the end I hadn’t been playing many games. I’d also been out injured with a broken ankle, and I was feeling a bit fed up just training. That’s not what I got into it for. I just wanted to come home, go and play, and enjoy it. It was a great decision.” 

Collin joined Workington Reds and combined part-time football with work. He and his father teamed up – “landscape gardening, walling, fencing, anything agricultural contractor-wise” – and later took an estate manager job at Nunwick Hall. “It would be a case of working 8am-5pm, then training twice a week and playing,” he says.

News and Star: Collin pictured during his day job in 2008 as a gardener at Nunwick Hall (photo: David Hollins)Collin pictured during his day job in 2008 as a gardener at Nunwick Hall (photo: David Hollins)

Collin saved penalties against Farsley Celtic to help Reds to promotion in the play-offs, sending them to Conference North, and steadily established himself as a top young keeper at that level. “The bunch of lads that were there at that time were top drawer,” he says. “Tony Hopper, who’s sadly no longer with us, was a top man, Kyle May was great…loads of top lads. 

“I loved playing at that level. You had different personalities, different people. The bus journeys, the camaraderie with the lads, is something I always took away from that time.”

News and Star: Collin, playing for Workington, saves a Stalybridge Celtic penalty in 2009 (photo: Tom Kay)Collin, playing for Workington, saves a Stalybridge Celtic penalty in 2009 (photo: Tom Kay)

Collin had trained with Carlisle in 2007, when Neil McDonald was manager, but there was no prospect of a contract at a time Keiren Westwood was No1 with Chris Howarth back-up. “I did think at that point that maybe my chance had gone,” he says – but later, with McDonald’s assistant Greg Abbott in charge, Collin was invited back. 

This time there was a deal, and early in the 2009/10 season he ousted former Chelsea man Pidgeley from the side. In the Trophy his spot-kick skills earned victory at Morecambe, while he made his Football League debut in a 4-3 win at MK Dons.

News and Star: Collin signed for Carlisle United in 2009 (photo: Louise Porter)Collin signed for Carlisle United in 2009 (photo: Louise Porter)

The barmy night against Leeds took Collin and Carlisle to Wembley, where he performed well in the final even as United were annihilated 4-1 by a premium Southampton side. “Even now, when lads ask me about that game and I rhyme off that Southampton team – Michail Antonio, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert – they find it hard to believe. 

News and Star: Collin is mobbed by United team-mates after his saves against Leeds sent United to the 2010 JPT final (photo: Jonathan Becker)Collin is mobbed by United team-mates after his saves against Leeds sent United to the 2010 JPT final (photo: Jonathan Becker)

“That’s what we were coming up against in League One back then. It was a hell of an experience to play against them, let alone in a Wembley final in front of 73,000 people. To go from Conference North to that in the space of a year was worlds apart.” 

United made it back to Wembley the following year, where Collin kept a clean sheet against Brentford to help Abbott’s team win the trophy. “To go back and win it, against a strong Brentford team…that’s right up there for me,” he says.

News and Star: Collin and his United team-mates after winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at Wembley in 2011 (photo: Jonathan Becker)Collin and his United team-mates after winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at Wembley in 2011 (photo: Jonathan Becker)

Collin remained with Carlisle until 2013 – then, after joining Rotherham, found himself back under the arch again in 2014. This time his shoot-out expertise returned as the Millers beat Leyton Orient to win the League One play-off final.

“I thought, after Carlisle, that was my Wembley appearances done,” he says. “To get back there so soon was crazy, as was the way the game panned out – 2-0 down, back to 2-2, going behind in the shoot-out, then saving two and the place erupting.” 

How does a goalkeeper feel when he is the hero of the hour on such a day? “It takes a while to sink in,” Collin says. “Even now, when I watch it back, I get a little bit nervous, which is weird because I know the outcome. 

News and Star: Collin celebrates promotion with Rotherham after his penalty shoot-out saves against Leyton Orient in 2014's play-off final (photo: PA)Collin celebrates promotion with Rotherham after his penalty shoot-out saves against Leyton Orient in 2014's play-off final (photo: PA)

“I saved the last penalty, had a quick glance to the ref to check it was the last one, then sprinted towards the boys. It was such a tight-knit group, that Rotherham team – it had to be under Steve Evans. I’ve a lot of respect for him; he’s won a lot of stuff, but he was a really tough manager to play for. There was a lot of stuff going off behind the scenes that season too, and the team spirit was so high. 

“At the time it’s absolute jubilation with the lads. Then, two or three days later, it starts to sink in. ‘Jesus, it was me that did that…’” 

Collin played in the Championship, where his performances included a remarkable triple-save at Norwich which has its own YouTube video. A loan at Aberdeen gave him a brief taste of Scotland’s top-flight, and then he helped Notts County to the League Two play-off semi-finals in 2018.

“John Sheridan and Mark Crossley took me there,” he says. “The club was a right mess behind the scenes, we weren’t getting paid, but then Kevin Nolan came in [as manager] and Alan Hardy, the new owner, came in. 

“Two days after the play-offs [defeat to Coventry] I was called into the office. I could see Kev wasn’t happy. He said, ‘I’ve fought your corner, but the chairman wants to play Ross Fitzsimons, because he thinks he can sell him for a quarter of a million in January’.” 

Collin left – and a call from goalkeeping coach Dan Watson then brought him back to Carlisle. Sheridan was now United’s manager and the Blues wanted competition for Middlesbrough loan signing Joe Fryer. Collin agreed a deal on his second day back – and after the luckless Fryer broke his leg in a game against Crewe, the Cumbrian returned to the team and went on to enjoy an outstanding season.

News and Star: Collin returned to Carlisle United in 2018 and was made captain the following year (photo: Richard Parkes)Collin returned to Carlisle United in 2018 and was made captain the following year (photo: Richard Parkes)

“Joe was really unlucky with that nasty injury,” Collin says. “That gave me my chance, and I didn’t look back.” He was a multiple player-of-the-year in 2018/19 as United rose to promotion contention under Sheridan, before sliding to mid-table under Steven Pressley.

One of Collin’s performances that spring, in a 3-2 win over Bury, was one of Brunton Park’s best goalkeeping displays in recent memory. “That season overall was one of my most consistent,” he says. “It helped that we had a back five of myself, Gary Liddle, Anthony Gerrard, Tom Parkes and Danny Grainger – you’re not gonna get a better defence for consistency and experience. Working with those guys and having that understanding helped me massively.” 

Collin’s two latter seasons with United saw him work under the varied managerial personalities of Sheridan, Pressley and, in 2019/20, Chris Beech. “I knew what Shez was like before I came; I think it took a few boys a while to work him out, but he was a good manager. If he’d stayed [Sheridan left for Chesterfield in January 2019] we could have had a really good season.

“Steven was a great guy. He made me captain and I thought he was a touch unlucky. He was introducing a whole different style of play and it was never going to be an overnight fix. I felt things were just starting to turn a bit when he got sacked. 

“Chris Beech came in and had his own ideas and philosophies. We maybe didn’t see eye-to-eye much, but we got on with it.”

After Covid curtailed that campaign, Collin left the Blues and decided that two seasons of driving good distances from his east Midlands base was no longer for him. “I wasn’t getting any younger, my coaching company [he launched AC1 Goalkeeping in 2016] was taking off, and I thought it was time to stop travelling as much and look after the body a bit more.”

He joined Kettering in National League North for another Covid-interrupted season, and has spent this campaign with Basford United. His coaching experience over several years working with young players led him to the position of head of academy goalkeeping at Mansfield Town this autumn.

This crystallised his decision to retire from playing and devote himself fully to working with young keepers. 

“I don’t miss it, no,” he says, when I ask if he will find it hard no longer to be playing. “I enjoy joining in training still, but that’s as far as it goes for me. Travelling round the country on Saturdays and Tuesdays…I’m not entertaining that any more. I’ve played enough games to think, ‘Yeah, I’m happy now’.”

Collin is an ambitious coach who would also like to have a shot at management. He refers to the job Grainger did at Reds as an example of the sort of position he may one day covet. 

Although based a few hours from Cumbria, he retains connections with his home county. Through another of his businesses, he supplies gloves to Gabe Breeze, one of United’s talented young keepers, and hopefully the latest in a proud tradition of Cumbrian custodians.

News and Star: Collin saw Dean Henderson at close quarters during the Man Utd keeper's academy days at Carlisle (photo: Mike McKenzie)Collin saw Dean Henderson at close quarters during the Man Utd keeper's academy days at Carlisle (photo: Mike McKenzie)

As well as Collin there have been the likes of Caig and Scott Carson, while Manchester City's James Trafford is an emerging talent. Collin recalls another. “Deano [Henderson] used to come in and train with me and Caigy when I was first at Carlisle,” he says. “He was under-13 then, and his athleticism and agility were unbelievable. His hunger for it too. For somebody so young just to want to train, and save balls, and catch balls, have that hunger for being a goalkeeper…it stood out a long, long way, and it's paid off.” 

Collin can now reflect on his own career of diverse achievements and dramatic days - amounting to 415 professional appearances (and hundreds more in non-league) - which he developed from the ground up after being released by Newcastle. “If you told me what I’d go on to do back then, I’d struggle to see how that would play out,” he says.

“It’s something I say to youngsters now. Some of them want everything now and pretty easily. I tell them to look at the bigger picture, and work hard. It’s been a hell of a ride.”