Friday Interview: I couldn't believe fuss over La Manga trip, says Stan Collymore
Even by his own standards, Stan Collymore admits "an awful lot happened" in his short spell at Leicester City.
City made front-page news everywhere when they were sent home in disgrace from the Spanish resort of La Manga after Collymore let off a fire extinguisher in a hotel bar back in February 2000.
Stan Collymore celebrates his hat-trick for City against Sunderland
He reflected on his City days as the current Leicester side bid to clinch the League One title tomorrow with a win at Southend, another of Collymore's former clubs.
He said: "Signing for Martin O'Neill at Leicester was great because he was the best manager I played under.
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"Martin had stressed to me, though, when I arrived that I needed to keep my nose clean.
"I could not quite believe that within a week or two I found myself in the middle of one of the biggest footballing news stories and we were even the first item on News at Ten.
"The events have been written into folklore but, at the time, it seemed like nothing more than a light-hearted joke to let off the extinguisher."
Collymore was fined and disciplined by the club, but three weeks later he was attracting the right kind of headlines.
He said: "We played at Filbert Street against Sunderland – it was my home debut and the match was on Sky TV – and I scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win.
"There was a lot of talk about the partnership I had with Emile Heskey who had just broken into the side.
"It's no surprise to me that he has gone on to have such a great career and he is still not getting the full credit he deserves. I still think he's England's best centre-forward."
But it was a short-lived partnership as Heskey switched to Liverpool, another one of Collymore's former clubs, and, less than a month later, Collymore suffered a broken leg against Derby on April 2.
O'Neill then left for Celtic in the June and Peter Taylor came in as his replacement for the 2000-01 campaign but Collymore admitted: "From day one, it didn't work for me."
A bust-up with Trevor Benjamin at a reserve-team game hastened his departure to Bradford in October. "It's one of my biggest regrets that I wasn't able to play under Martin for longer than I did," he said.
Collymore, who is now a radio pundit and newspaper columnist, went on: "As I work for the media now, Martin allows me to pop into the training ground at Aston Villa and it's great to catch up with him as well as John Robertson and Steve Walford (O'Neill's former assistants at Leicester)."
And he has kept a close eye as City edge ever nearer to a quick return to the Championship.
Collymore said he was "very surprised" that City slipped into the third tier for the first time in their history.
He said: "City have enjoyed success under Martin and then again under Micky Adams but football is cyclical and, after the good times, there can be periods of not matching anyone's expectations – just look at Charlton at the bottom of the Championship.
"I was very surprised the club slipped into the old third division but it is great to have watched Nigel Pearson come into the club and do well.
"He was facing an extremely difficult job and he needed to make a strong start and that is what he has achieved.
"Putting Leicester down as favourites is one thing but, as other so-called bigger clubs such as Leeds and Nottingham Forest have demonstrated, it is still a really big ask to set the pace from day one. However, Leicester have done that."
And, without tempting fate, Collymore is also backing City to do well in the Championship.
He said: "It is often the case that if you come up one division, you can have another successful season and I wouldn't rule that out in City's case."
Ironically, it is Southend, Collymore's second club, who could gatecrash the promotion party. The striker moved to Roots Hall in 1992 and admits he loved his time at the Essex club where he became a cult hero.
He scored 15 goals in 30 League starts before being snapped up by Nottingham Forest.
He said: "I still keep in touch with some of the guys down at Southend. It was the club which really launched my career and, whatever I went on to achieve was down to them giving me my first break."