The Collins brothers are laughing, jesting about their differing golf abilities, but on Tuesday night brotherly love will go out of the window when they line up on opposite teams in the League Two play-offs, Aaron for Forest Green Rovers and Lewis for Newport County.
A highly charged occasion promises to be an emotional one for parents Claire and Rodney given their sons, who plan to swap shirts at full time, are set to share a pitch for the first time as professionals.
They have a close bond but considering they are about to face each other twice in six days to compete for a spot at Wembley, conversation this week will be different.
“Usually we would talk about how games against, say, Crawley or Bolton went but we cannot really talk about how Newport or Forest Green play because the last thing we want to do is give away a little bit of insight,” says Aaron, smiling. “There’ll be no talking about football. We both know when we’re on the pitch, we’re fighting for our own clubs and it’s nothing to do with brotherhood then.”
Lewis turned 20 last week and Aaron will be 24 by the time the play-off final comes around. Aaron joined Wolves from Newport in 2016 but spent the majority of his time at the club out on loan. Two years ago he signed for Forest Green, who are gunning to reach League One for the first time, after a fruitful spell at Morecambe. “I think the four years that he was away from home was massive for us because we never saw each other and he was always on the move,” says Lewis. “Now he’s home, we cherish being with each other a lot more.”
They have not played together since kicking a ball around at the family home in Newport, where Lewis lives with his parents. Their attic is a trip down memory lane: scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings, old trophies, shirts and boots. “From a young age we would always be out in the back garden playing together, having our little competitions and games,” says Aaron, who lives in nearby Cwmbran. “It was a good laugh. I tried to make him into a goalie but it didn’t last long … he soon got bored of that.”
A common denominator between the pair is Michael Flynn, Lewis’s manager at Newport. “You could say he got us both our first professional contracts,” says Aaron, explaining how the club’s then midfielder and academy coach “got me out of working” at McDonald’s when he looked set to slip through the net. A few months later he replaced Flynn for his debut. “I was working there for a couple of months to pay petrol for my moped, etc. He put me on to [then manager] Justin Edinburgh and got me my first professional contract, which obviously changed my life.”
For Lewis, who travelled to Wembley as the 19th man when Newport lost in the play-off final to Tranmere two years ago, Flynn has also been instrumental. “He’s given me that platform, like he did for Aaron, and I’ve got a lot to be appreciative of. For me now, I’m still in the mindset of: ‘I’m doing something for him’ because he’s given me my opportunity.”
Are they similar players? “We’ve both played as a second striker this season and people who’ve played with us both say we’re very similar,” says Aaron. Lewis says: “He’s a lot more laid back than me. That’s the only difference between us and I think that’s why we’re so close.”
Newport will welcome 900 fans for the first leg, the first of a series of pilot events for the return of supporters in Wales.
Among them will be the brothers’ biggest fans and, whatever happens, they’ll be going to Wembley. “For Mum and Dad, it’s going to be a big thing,” says Lewis. Aaron says with a laugh: “I’ll end up looking up into the stand and they’ll probably have Newport scarves on. They won’t want to upset the fans!”
Playing together one day, they say, would be a dream but for now they are set for the next best thing. “We were warming up together throughout the game [between the teams last season] thinking: ‘It’s going to be the first time,’ but it didn’t turn out like that,” says Aaron [both brothers were substitutes but only Aaron came on]. “Walking off the pitch at full time with my brother will be something I will treasure for ever.”