Leon Britton: 500 not out
28th January 2016
Leon Britton has experienced it all at Swansea City.
Having broken the 500 appearance mark, his career has included promotions, cup success, a continental adventure and, at one point, the unrivalled pass master in Europe.
There have also been bucket collections to pay his wages, car-sharing to find training pitches and a facemask to protect a broken cheekbone.
Few in the game will have experienced so much.
For the man who left behind the bright lights of the Premier League to drive past the lights of the Port Talbot steelworks to take up a relegation battle in a country he had not stepped foot in, Britton's achievements since first kicking a ball for Swansea can't be done justice solely with words.
His journey and rise parallel that of the club he has proudly represented for 12 years.
The story of how the Swans beat relegation on that famous day against Hull is well known. It is etched into the club's history books and, of course, on the big screen via the documentary Jack to a King.
Throughout that rise from the bottom of League Two to the present day, Britton - aside from a seven-month spell at Sheffield United - has been a constant figure.
A Swan since December 13, 2002 - the day he signed on loan - Britton would end his temporary spell at the Vetch Field knowing a return was all that he wanted.
Leaving Premier League side West Ham at the time was a big decision, but one that turned out for the best.
His career blossomed, and he would help the Swans to three promotions, the Football League Trophy, Capital One Cup and a Europa League adventure. Not forgetting, playing his part in last season's record-breaking campaign.
For many, the successes at Wembley - Championship Play-Off joy against Reading, followed by the Capital One Cup final record-win over Bradford - top the list of Swansea memories of recent past.
The Europa League win at Valencia - Britton missed the game through suspension - are often reminisced about when discussing memorable results.
And, of course, that win over Hull City in 2003 that saved the club's league status, thus laying the platform to progress.
But, in typically modest and endearing Britton style, he picks one result out as the standout moment in his 500 Swansea City appearances.
"It has to be my first game against Exeter City," reflects Britton, smiling as though the game was yesterday.
"It may seem strange to some, particularly because we lost 1-0 at Exeter on a cold afternoon in December.
"But, for me, it meant everything. Hearing my name called on out on the tannoy, playing my first senior game and then the fans cheering for me even when I made the smallest of contributions. It was amazing."
That level of support by the Jack Army has continued to the present day.
Earlier this season, Britton was warming up along the touchline during the home game with Newcastle United.
The Liberty erupted into chants of "Leon, Leon, Leon". It didn't go unnoticed by Britton.
These are the same fans that dug deep into their pockets in 2003 to help fund Britton's permanent move to South West Wales.
They also provided another cherished memory during a League Cup tie at Wigan in 2010 - during Britton's time at Sheffield United.
"I really wanted to watch that game at Wigan, but I was really apprehensive about going into the away end because I wasn't sure what reception I would get because I'd only left the club a few months before that," says Britton.
"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.
"And they've continued to be amazing to me.
"Even this season, against Newcastle at home, when I was warming up and it felt like the whole stadium was singing my name. I can't pretend that I didn't have goosepimples at that point.
"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!
"It gives you confidence when you know the fans are so behind you.
"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 player that has given everything to the cause, he now rightly joins a select few who have reached the 500-mark with the Swans.
His name now sits alongside the likes of Swans legends Wilfried Milne, Roger Freestone and Herbie Williams.
"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.
"But I'm not finished yet. My focus is to continue helping us push back up the league and get to where we want to be."