THE BIG INTERVIEW: Leon Britton
26th December 2015
Leon Britton is close to joining an illustrious group of footballers - a club that includes the likes of household Barclays Premier League names Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
In just three more appearances, the diminutive midfielder will join the likes of Swans legends Wilfried Milne, Roger Freestone and Herbie Williams to have made 500 appearances for Swansea City.
"It is amazing company to be in," beamed Britton. "You talk about the fantastic players that have reached the 500 mark and had great careers, so it's very pleasing for me.
"In modern day football, where players tend to move after a couple of seasons, it's probably going to become even more uncommon, so it will be a great achievement if I can reach it."
Having made his Swans debut at Exeter City on a cold winter's afternoon in 2002, Britton wouldn't have expected to achieve what he has achieved in South Wales over the course of the past 13 years.
A graduate of the England Development School at Lilleshall and once the most expensive 16-year-old in English football, when Britton moved to South Wales on loan from West Ham United nobody could have foreseen the remarkable career that would stretch out in front of him.
Britton cites League Cup final success in 2013 - Swansea's first-ever major honour - that 4-2 victory over Hull City in 2003 to preserve the club's Football League status, as well as the LDV Vans Trophy final success as major career highlights. But there are two proud moments for Britton that stand out above the rest.
"The biggest moment for me..." ponders the 33-year-old. "Well, there are probably two.
"Firstly, my debut at Exeter. When you are seven or eight-years-old and you want to be a footballer, you want to play on a Saturday afternoon in games that matter.
"I did it at Swansea when I was 20, which was my full debut. It was a proud moment because of all the hard work I put in during my younger years to get myself to that point.
"The other proud moment would be winning promotion to the Premier League. Once you've made your debut in the Football League, you then want to make it to the top. You work day-in and day-out to try and achieve that.
"Getting to the Premier League was a dream for me, and to do it with the club I love - at Wembley and in front of 40,000 Swans fans - made it a special day."
Britton's phenomenal journey to the top flight made his achievement all the more special.
Alongside Alan Tate and Garry Monk, Britton's fairytale story of his and Swansea's intertwining journey from the doldrums of the Football League's basement division to the glitz and glamour of the Premier League has been well documented.
"I know it's happened before at the club, with the likes of Curt and Wyndham (Evans), Speedy (Nigel Stevenson) and people like that," reflects Britton. "It is an elite group of players that have played in all four divisions, so it is something else that I'm really proud of.
"It shows great character and ability from those players that have been able to step up each level because every level that you step up, the club improves the squad. It gets harder to stay in there, which is something that I and the other boys are proud of."
At one point, during Swansea's maiden season in the Premier League, Britton even had the best pass completion rate in Europe, even topping Barcelona's legendary pass master Xavi.
"You know my game - I keep it short and simple," laughs Britton. "We found when we came up to the Premier League that all these stats get thrown about.
"That one got a bit of publicity and I had a bit of fun with it and got a lot of stick at the training ground. It was nice to hear, but it was never something that mattered to me too much."
But Britton's upward climb with the Swans hasn't always been plain sailing. In 2010, after his contract with the Swans expired, the midfield maestro departed for Sheffield United, only to return to the Swans seven months later.
"Obviously, the move to Sheffield United was a mistake, which was clear," reflects Britton. "At the time, it felt like the right thing to do. In football, you live in that moment and make your decisions on what you are thinking at the time.
"All footballers can look back on their careers and think about the things they could have done differently. Obviously I'd love to take that part out, but I can't.
"Everything happens for a reason, and so I was lucky that the club took me back seven months on."
Britton's short stint away from the Swans proved nothing more than a minor speed bump in his love affair with the club. It certainly didn't affect his unbreakable bond with the Jack Army.
"It gives you confidence when you know the fans are so behind you," adds Britton. "Since day one, the fans have sung my name. Even when I came back from Sheffield United, there could have been people that weren't too happy, but when I got back and came on against Barnsley, they were singing my name again.
"It's been great. I've been able to take so much confidence from the fans, knowing that I have their backing. I can play my game and know that they will support me no matter what."
A well-timed challenge, a typically incisive pass or even a brisk jog down the touchline to warm-up is all that is needed to get the Jack Army on their feet and launching into a chorus of "Leon! Leon! Leon!"
"There have been a few special moments," smiles the Swans legend. "Even this season, against Newcastle at home, when I was warming up and it felt like the whole stadium was singing my name.
"I thought I might be leaving in the summer, but it felt like they were happy that I was staying at the football club. It was an amazing moment - and I wasn't even on the pitch!
"The other moment was when I went to watch Swansea against Wigan in the League Cup, and I was at Sheffield United. I wanted to go and watch, but I was a bit apprehensive because I didn't know what reception I'd get being in the Swansea end because I had only just left a couple of months before.
"I remember going into the away end and the fans were singing my name in the concourse. It was a surreal moment because I had left Swansea, yet there they were singing my name. That moment made me realise how much the fans felt for me and how much of a connection we had."
497 appearances down the line and Britton is still going strong. Having started the last five fixtures, he remains an integral part of the Swans playing squad.
"It's difficult because the five games I've played, we've lost four and drawn one of them," adds Britton. "We're in the midst of a bad run of form, but it's nice to get back out there, and I feel like I'm getting sharper with every minute I play.
"In the summer I didn't know if I was going to be here this season, but things have turned around for me."
Looking ahead, Britton sees his long-term future in Swansea. He is already planning for life after football, having enjoyed punditry roles with the likes of the BBC and Sky Sports. But the pass master aims to stay involved in the game when he eventually decides to hang up his boots.
"I'm settled off the pitch here," insists Britton. "I'm doing my coaching badges and doing some coaching with the Under-14s.
"I've been at the club for so long and I'd love to stay here in some capacity after I finish. When you've played a lot of games for the club and have been through what we have over the last 12 or 13 years, it's hard to leave that behind.
"Coaching and staying on the grass is something I'd like to do. I think it would be difficult, once you leave football, to get that buzz back but coaching would be something close to it."
And how about finding and nurturing the next Leon Britton?
"It would be great to bring some young players through, which is something we haven't been able to do as much as we would have liked over the past ten to 12 years, except from the likes of Joey (Allen) and Ben (Davies)," continues the Swansea stalwart.
"I'd love to be able to pass my own experience onto them younger players and try and help them come through into the Swansea first team."