NEARLY two months on, the pain engulfing Yeovil Town following the tragic passing of their captain Lee Collins is not subsiding.
Manager Darren Sarll and owner Scott Priestnall both feel like a piece of them has been missing ever since Collins took his own life on March 31, aged just 32.
While team-mate Carl Dickinson still gets frustrated by the fact “Collo” did not open up to him about his demons, despite the pair often discussing the loss they had suffered in their lives.
The defender said: “You always think, ‘If he had just said something to me’. I still get a little wound up about it, to be honest.
“More often than not when we were having a beer, it would be a deep and meaningful conversation because we had been through similar things – we both lost our dads.
“You think, ‘If you could speak to me about something as deep as that, why couldn’t you speak about the other side?'"
It is one of many unanswered questions facing the people affected by Collins’ death, none more so than his partner Rachel and their daughters Amelia, Laila and Charley-Mae.
The club have set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the girls, who were guests and mascots at the final-day clash at home to Stockport on Saturday.
By all accounts, Lee Harvey Collins was a gentle giant who constantly put others before him. What happened appears to have come as a complete shock to all.
Sarll, who signed him from Forest Green in 2019, described his skipper as an 'iceberg' – a strong presence that offered no hint of the troubles he was facing beneath the surface.
He was an authoritative figure in the dressing room whom all the players admired and respected.
Dickinson, whose 17-year career has taken him from the Premier League to the National League, saw in Collins a kindred spirit.
The 34-year-old explained: “I first met Collo on one of my old team-mates’ stag-dos. He was a happy, fun, caring guy, who seemed to take everything in his stride.
“He was a fierce competitor. Everything he did meant something. He was a winner, I’d like to think that was why we got along so well. We had that same energy.”
Sarll will never forget receiving the phone call detailing the horrendous news.
Nigh-on all of Yeovil’s players live in different parts of the country but stay in flats locally some days of the week.
Sarll went round to Collins’ accommodation, which was surrounded by flashing blue lights.
The 38-year-old felt obliged to deliver the news to each of his players in person that night.
For a really brilliant human being that all he ever did was care and give his time and energy to someone else, we now want to do the same to his girls
Sarll recalled: “It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.
“The first time, you shock yourself by saying the words. By the end of the evening, you’re numb to what is actually coming out of your mouth.”
Dickinson, who shared a flat with three other players, was celebrating his birthday that night.
But he knew something was up when a sombre-sounding Sarll said he was popping round.
The left-back said: “I answered the door to the gaffer, saw his face and knew something wasn’t right.
“When he eventually sat us down and told us, it’s something I won’t forget. It was horrible.
“We decided as a group to go home the next day. Pretty much every lad in the squad is not from around Yeovil. That was the best thing we did, to just get back to family.”
Most of the players eventually returned – though some could not face it – and everyone attempted to get back to some kind of normality, as impossible as that was to achieve.
Priestnall said: “I’m sad when I walk into the club. God knows what it’s like for everybody else to walk through those doors every day and have a piece of them missing.
“I do think the club is still not through what we need to be through.
“It’s probably a good thing the season will be over at the end of this week so people can have some quality time with their families and look after themselves.”
Dickinson would give a little nod or a wave to the flowers laid outside the stadium whenever he drove in.
His locker is situated next to Collins’ one and he always gives it a fist-bump every day, and the same to the picture of their departed colleague displayed in the tunnel at Huish Park.
After a two-week hiatus for compassionate leave, the team began playing matches again but it has largely been a blur and results have unsurprisingly been affected.
The players and staff are still grieving. The end of the season could not come soon enough.
Sarll has not been able to celebrate a goal since and is seeing a counsellor.
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It has left him reevaluating how he treats players in the dressing room, no longer wanting to lose his temper because you never know what someone is privately going through.
He added: “We’re going to have to adapt. I’m going to have to adapt. Everything that I believe in now is all about prevention rather than cure.
“If there is something I’ve taken from this experience, it’s that the cure is really hard.
“Sometimes it’s not doable and that individual is not capable of doing it.
“It’s about knowledge, it’s about retraining our brains to be open-minded that this thing is very much here, this illness is very much amongst us, it can be in any dressing room in the country at any level and it doesn’t matter if that individual has £10million in the bank or 10p.
“It’s something we all need to consider and probably have some training on.”
The subject of mental health is being discussed more in society and even in football, so often the last to catch up.
But Dickinson feels more can be done to help players who are struggling internally.
The ex-Watford and Port Vale man added: “With what’s gone on, I feel like there should be representatives going into clubs once or twice a month from certain areas, whether that’s professionals or ex-players who have experienced it themselves to get the mentality of the football side.
“Some players might be more willing to talk to an ex-pro more than a [mental health] professional, or the other way around.
“The club have been fantastic but in terms of the bigger picture of every club, for me I think there needs to be more people who come in and talk to lads.”
Sarll felt a deep responsibility to ensure Collins' wife and daughters are taken care of financially which is why he helped launch the fundraising campaign for them.
Ten per cent of donations will be given to the charity Young Minds, which offers mental health support to all young people who need it.
Sarll added: “Lee played for some huge institutions. He started at Wolves, he played at Barnsley, Shrewsbury, Northampton, Port Vale, Yeovil, Forest Green.
“If the football world really want to get behind this, we can do something really great.
“In a world where we’re surrounded by real negativity, misery and for a lot of us, death, we can do a really great thing here for young people.
“For a really brilliant human being that all he ever did was care and give his time and energy to someone else, we now want to do the same to his girls.”
To support the Crowdfunder campaign, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/in-memory-of-lee-collins
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