A gold coffin topped with a crown: Hundreds attend funeral of 'King of Sheffield'

Hundreds of people have turned out for the elaborate funeral of a popular former bare-knuckle boxer known as the ‘King of Sheffield’ this morning.

By Darren Burke
Saturday, 15th August 2020, 1:11 pm

The city’s streets came to a standstill for dad-of-nine Willy Collins who died suddenly while on holiday in Spain celebrating his wife’s birthday.

The 49-year-old is undertaking his final journey in a gold coffin, topped with a crown, with six plumed horses decked out with yellow and blue feathers pulling his white funeral carriage through the streets.

The cortege, which has been winding its wat through the streets of Sheffield before a service at Shiregreen Cemetery at 1pm, also included 40 Rolls Royce cars, dozens of bikers and vintage cars as people from across Sheffield and the country came together to pay their respects.

The funeral of Willy Collins (inset) has been taking place in Sheffield this morning.

A well-known and popular figure in the city’s traveller community, Mr Collins died suddenly after collapsing in Mallorca last month.

His wife Kathleen paid an emotional tribute and said: "I'm heartbroken at losing the love of my life. My husband would take the coat off his back to give to a stranger if they needed it.

"He wasn't an angel, far from it. He never looked for trouble but he wasn't frightened of it. All he wanted was peace for his children and to be able to give them everything they needed.

"A lot of people have said a lot of nice things about him, which has been very nice to hear."

The cortege for the man also known as Big Willy, set off from outside at the Old Ball pub in Darnall and was led by velvet suited mourners, some wearing crowns in tribute to Mr Collins.

It is understood he is been laid to rest in a 22 carat coffin while his vault at the cemetery is lined with tiles of the Last Supper.

Large crowds have lined the route, which took in Pitsmoor, where he grew up. There will be a graveside Mass and burial to allow social distancing.

Meanwhile, Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Police have rejected family claims that pubs in the city have been advised to close today.

Councillor Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure, said arrangements have been made to support mourners at the cemetery and to help the funeral procession travel through the city ‘smoothly’.

She said: “We have thought carefully about public safety and the potential risks to those attending, and as we expect more mourners than our policy currently stipulates, we have now made the decision to open the cemetery toilets during the service.

“We expect there may be some travel disruption on the day as the procession travels through the city and we will support this to happen as smoothly and respectfully as possible for mourners. Local pubs and businesses are not required to close on Saturday and have not been asked to do so.”

South Yorkshire Police said: “This is a private event, but one which is likely to have a large attendance. Therefore, we would remind anyone who chooses to attend, to observe social distancing guidelines, to keep everyone safe while paying their respects.

“We have not instructed any licensed premises to close or refuse service to any members of the public.

“Any private venue making decisions of this nature are not at the request of South Yorkshire Police.”

Mr Collins will be buried in the same city cemetery where his brother Anthony Collins was laid to rest after a fatal stabbing 18 years ago.

In 2002, hew was left fighting for life after an attack in which his brother, Anthony, known as ‘Marty Boy,’ died.

The were stabbed at the Afro Caribbean Club, Spital Hill, when a dispute in the club developed into violence.

Drug dealer Mark Lloyd Roberts, who was in his 30s and from Burngreave Road, left the club after an initial argument and returned in combat gear and a balaclava, armed with two knives.

He stabbed Anthony through his heart and left Willy with serious chest and lung injuries.

The Territorial Army soldier, who had been ‘trained to kill’, pleaded guilty to murder and wounding with intent and was jailed for life.

He was ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years before being eligible for parole, which was later reduced to 11.

In a Facebook post, Willy’s wife said the two brothers were ‘finally back together again’.

“They are finally back together again. Two legends back together again,” she said.

“I couldn’t be more happier to know he is with his baby brother, who he loved very much and spoke about every day.”

In a message aimed at Anthony, she said: “18 year ago he nearly died with you but you left him with me for 18 year. You were like my own child to me, please put your arms around him for me and kiss him and tell him I love him, because I know he never wanted to leave us.

“Together again forever and always.”