BARNSLEY were ‘very fortunate’ that all players and staff got off the team bus safely on Saturday night before it was engulfed in flames, says Neill Collins who hopes the experience will bring them even more together as a group.
Players are thought to have noticed a fire towards the back of the coach as it was approaching Cheltenham at about 8pm on the M5 following the 1-0 win at Exeter City.
The coach was evacuated and a section of the motorway closed so emergency services could deal with the blaze.
Head coach Collins told the Chronicle: “First and foremost we are very fortunate that everyone is fine.
“It could always be worse.
“The boys at the back said the bus was on fire. Engine lights were coming on.
“The driver did an excellent job of getting pulled over quickly and getting us off. Chris Ridyard (player liaison co-ordinator) was at the front and managed to get the door open.
“We got to safety and then, before we knew it, the bus was totally on fire.
“It all happened in about a minute.
“No one expects something like that but we all stayed calm.
“We lost a lot of personal items and it was not ideal but we handled it well.
“Jon Russell was on the motorway with no shoes on. He had to put bin bags on his feet.
“It was certainly not the way we expected to spend our Saturday night.
“We will let the club handle what needs to be handled and we will focus on football again now.”
Thousands of pounds worth of medical and training equipment was lost in the blaze as well as personal items such as computers and phones.
Collins said: “It’s a setback. Players have lost three or four pairs of boots each. That’s very expensive.
“We have lost loads of the fitness equipment. The coaching and media staff have lost personal laptops. I have lost my personal phone, with everything on it, and hard drive with all my work on it.
“The analysts have lost data.
“If we had a game on Tuesday night, that would have been really tough to get everything sorted.”
Collins hopes the incident will bring the group together.
“When I was in Tampa, we had three or four real ordeals with travelling when you have to come together. We had a hurricane come through Tampa last year with staff members’ houses in the eye of the storm. We all had to board up our houses. It’s different but the principle is the same with people out of their comfort zone. Everyone stayed calm, stuck together and that’s a credit to the togetherness. Hopefully we see it continue to grow. We kept spirits high.
“If you don’t laugh, you cry. It’s what brings you together.”
Cheltenham Town stepped in to offer their coach to take the Reds back to Oakwell, with most players returning home after 4am on Sunday morning.
Collins said: “It was great.
“We all do the same job and we all recognise the issues we all face. Football people help each other out.
“We gave the players a little bit more time off on Monday morning but we didn’t change too much.”
Barnsley had always planned to train on Monday and Tuesday then give the players the rest of this week off.
The Reds’ next game is at Leyton Orient on October 21.
Collins said: “The time off will be good. It gives us time to re-group then prepare for our next game.
“We’re always looking to improve individually and collectively.
“We want to sustain the things we have done well, work on them in training but also improve a couple of other things.
“We will continue to take small steps forward all the time.”
A Reds team, mainly consisting of those who have not been starting league games, played in a behind-closed-doors friendly away at a Manchester United XI on Tuesday. The hosts won 3-0, mainly fielding reserve players. But their team did include Brazil forward Antony and Netherlands midfielder Donny van de Beek who were reportedly signed for £82million and £40million respectively.