'A lot of people divide opinions - he didn't'
Solid as a rock. Swansea City’s fans could not have chosen better when they came up with the lyrics to the song they used to sing for Kevin Austin.
If you talk to any of Austin’s former team-mates, after all, they will tell you the same thing.
Austin was a solid player and he was a solid bloke.
As a result, he became a very popular figure both in the dressing room and in the stands during his stint as a Swan.
“We have got a WhatsApp group of former Swansea players and we have been sharing our memories of Kev,” says Andy Robinson.
“I broke down reading those, and I know a few of the other lads did too.
“We are talking about a proper gentleman. He had charisma and he got so much respect from all the other lads.
“We all knew he had been unwell, but it was gut-wrenching when we heard that he had passed away.”
Austin signed for the Swans in the summer of 2004, arriving on a free transfer from Bristol Rovers.
He was 30 when he joined, an experienced pro who had plenty of lower-league games under his belt.
Kenny Jackett, the Swans manager at the time, turned to Austin because he wanted to add defensive nous to his squad.
It proved a very shrewd move.
“Kev was a great guy to have around the place,” says Alan Tate, who played alongside Austin in the Swans’ back four.
“He was one of the senior members of the squad and we all looked up to him.
“He had been through a lot in football and we all respected that.
“He was also a really nice guy. He was aggressive on the pitch but off it he was a gentleman.
“It’s hard to believe that he has died at such a young age.”
Kristian O’Leary is another fine Swans servant who played many a game alongside Austin.
At times they were together at the back, on other occasions O’Leary played ahead of Austin in central midfield.
A product of the club’s youth set-up who wore the Swans crest on his chest for a couple of decades, O’Leary had numerous team-mates over the years.
Yet Austin is one who sticks out in the memory.
“Over the 20 years I was at the club, only a certain number of people made a lasting impression on me,” O’Leary says.
“Kevin was one of them. He was a true gentleman – a very good person and a very good friend.
“He was a very dependable guy and he was funny around the place.
“We would always have a joke together and he always had that big smile on his face.”
There was plenty to be happy about during Austin’s stint as a Swan.
He ended up staying for four seasons, during which time he racked up 150 appearances, two promotions and a Football League Trophy win.
There was one major disappointment, when the Swans were beaten on penalties by Barnsley in the 2006 League One play-off final.
A memorable picture from that afternoon shows Austin consoling Bayo Akinfenwa, one of the unfortunate ones who missed in the shootout.
That photograph tells a story about his position in the Swans dressing room at the time.
“All the lads respected Kev,” Lee Trundle says.
“He was always smiling but, if anyone did step out of line, he would be the first one to tell them.
“A lot of people divide opinions in football, but I don’t think Kev did.
“I don’t think you would find anyone with a bad word to say about him.
“He wasn’t a goalscorer or a flair player, but I think the fans liked him because of the way he played and the person he was.
“He was a people’s person. It’s just heartbreaking that he is gone at such a young age.”
Austin made a whopping 50 appearances in 2004-05, the year the Swans said farewell to the Vetch by winning promotion from the fourth tier.
He then played 35 times in 2005-06, and on 36 occasions in 2006-07, the year in which Jackett made way for Roberto Martinez.
Austin played another 29 times in 2007-08 – his last as a Swan – as Martinez’s team passed their way to the League One title.
“It was a very successful period in the club’s history,” O’Leary adds.
“When you are having success on the field, that’s when the closest friendships are formed. Whenever you talk or meet up, you always go back to those good times.
“That’s the way it was with Kev. He was a big, strong dependable footballer and he was a really genuine good guy.”
It says something about Austin’s footballing ability that he was able to contribute when Martinez took charge and introduced what would become known as the Swansea Way.
“Under Kenny we were really strong defensively and Kev was a major part of that,” Leon Britton says.
“But after Roberto came in, he played a big percentage of the games as well.
“He was an honest player. Physically he was really strong – I don’t think I have seen anyone who could shepherd the ball out of play from 30 yards like he used to do.
“You would see wingers trying to get around his body but you knew it wasn’t going to happen.
“Kev was dependable, consistent and reliable. You knew what you were going to get from him and he contributed a lot to two promotions.
“Off the pitch, he was just a lovely guy. That’s why everyone at the club has such fond memories of him.”
Robinson remembers Austin’s penchant for performing the “cup and saucer trick” every time the Swans brought in a new signing.
“When they came in on their first day, he would say ‘I am Kevin Austin, welcome to the club’ and he would make them a coffee or a tea,” Robinson explains.
“He would come back with the cup and saucer and a spoon poking out of the top and then slip and drop it on the new signing’s lap.
“The new player would jump out of their chair, but of course there was nothing in the cup apart from the spoon. Kev would be grinning and I would be in bits every time.”
Robinson played against Austin shortly before he became a team-mate in SA1.
They came face to face at the tail-end of the 2003-04 season, when the Swans were beaten 2-1 at Bristol Rovers.
“It was late in the game and Kev was shielding the ball in the corner to run down the clock,” Robinson recalls.
“I remember thinking ‘I’m not having this’. I ran over and tried to smash him, but I just bounced off and ended up doing my knee ligaments.
“When we got back for pre-season, who’s on the medical table at the Vetch? The bloke who I’d tried to smash when I did my ligaments.
“It was the first time I had actually met Kev. Even though it was all my fault, he came up to me and said sorry.
“That’s the bloke he was.”