Bolton Wanderers: Aaron Collins hopes to win promotion

Ten years ago he was working behind the till at a fast-food restaurant – and turning out for Merthyr Town in the eighth tier of English football.

Now Aaron Collins is at Wembley, one win away from the Championship and, he hopes, a first ever call up to the senior Wales team.

The Newport-born striker hopes Wales boss Rob Page will be on the phone if he helps Bolton Wanderers beat Oxford United in Saturday’s League One play-off final.

“It would be an honour to play for my country. It’s frustrating I haven’t been given the chance yet, but hopefully that will come,” said 26-year-old Collins.

“I’ve never spoken to anyone in the [Wales] set-up, which is tough because I like to think I’m doing enough to put my name out there and get a chance.

“There’s obviously staff there who don’t think I’m right at the moment or ready for international football. That’s their opinion, but all I can keep doing is performing…and if I do get a chance at some point it’d be a huge honour.”

Wales have two friendlies in June – against Slovakia and Gibraltar – in which Collins, a former Under-19 international, might hope to make a senior debut.

His goal-scoring exploits over the past two seasons would appear to give him a strong case – 14 goals overall for Bolton and Bristol Rovers this season, and 16 for Rovers in 2022-23.

Not bad when you consider there have been calls for the likes of Newport County’s Will Evans and Wrexham’s Paul Mullin to earn Wales recognition while playing in League Two.

For Collins, though, it has not exactly been a fast track from fast-food chain to possible international call-up.

He has trekked around 10 different clubs since emerging from Newport’s academy in 2014. There was a big move to Wolves in 2016, but he never made an appearance in the Championship and dropped back down to the bottom division.

Now dreaming of a return to the second tier with Bolton, it is a far cry from working on the till at that Malpas restaurant just to afford travel costs.

“I was working at McDonald’s while I was at Newport’s academy, and also doing a college course at that point,” said Collins.

“I had to bring money in to get back and forward to school. I worked there for three or four months before I was finally offered a professional contract (at Newport).

“I was never left on the food, which was quite a good thing! I was always alright at maths, so they chucked me on the tills.

“We were allowed a free meal at every break, which I had to take – even though I was trying to be a professional footballer!

“At the time I might’ve thought, ‘Is professional football actually going to happen? Maybe it’s not for me,’ but I did manage to get that pro contract and my life changed from there.”

There were other twists and turns, though. Before Collins’ Newport career took off, he had a loan spell at Merthyr Town in the Southern League Division One South and West.

His one appearance came as a substitute at Clevedon Town – in front of just 240 people.

All a long way from Wembley, where he will be playing in front of more than 50,000 fans as part of a Bolton team looking to return to the Championship for the first time since 2019.

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