Swansea City star Leon Britton set to end a 14-year wait at West Ham
LEON Britton still remembers returning to West Ham United after an unsuccessful trial at Southend.
And he recalls the moment he heard that Swansea City wanted to take a look at him in training for a week.
At the time he did not know what division Swansea were in, and all he knew about the city was that it was somewhere over the Severn Bridge.
But Britton was not about to turn Swansea down.
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"I remember looking at the league tables to find out where Swansea were," Britton says.
"I remember seeing that they were in the bottom two in the bottom division, but I couldn't be picking and choosing where I wanted to go.
"I didn't care. I just wanted a chance."
Britton had become the most expensive teenager in the history of British football when Harry Redknapp took the then 16-year-old to West Ham from Arsenal in a £400,000 deal in 1998.
Britton was regarded as a star-in-the-making, but the breakthrough would never come at Upton Park.
By the time Britton was 18, Redknapp had gone and Glenn Roeder was in charge.
And when Swansea boss Brian Flynn showed an interest, Roeder was not about to stand in Britton's way.
"I went on trial at Southend for a week or two, where (future Swansea assistant manager) Graeme Jones was the centre-forward at the time," Britton recalls.
"They said they didn't want me — Rob Newman was the manager — and when I came back to West Ham I got a phone call from Steve Shorey, who is Nicky Shorey's dad and was a scout at West Ham.
"He said he'd had a call from Brian Flynn and that he wanted me to go down to Swansea for a week.
"I was up for it. I would have gone anywhere.
"I came down for a week. We played a game at Aston Villa against a mix of their reserves and youth team and then we played at Forest Green on a cold Tuesday night in November.
"I think we must have had a gap in the fixtures — we had probably gone out in the first round of the FA Cup!
"After those games I signed on loan for a month.
"We played Exeter, then Leyton Orient and Bristol Rovers at home, and then Flynny signed me for the rest of the season."
Despite missing a fair chunk of the campaign, Britton won the player of the year at the Vetch that spring.
And in the summer, of course, he completed a permanent move to SA1 on a free transfer.
It goes down as one of the best deals the club have ever done.
"When Swansea first rang I didn't know where it was — all I knew was that it was in Wales," he admits.
"I remember coming down the M4 and it just didn't end!
"And I have got to be honest, I didn't know much about the football club then either.
"I always hoped I could make it in the professional game, and I just felt I needed someone to give me that chance. Swansea gave me that chance."
Just over a decade on, Britton remains a Swansea player.
There was that brief stint at Sheffield United, of course, but the gifted midfielder has been a mainstay of the Swansea side ever since that debut at Exeter — the first of six straight defeats at the start of his senior career.
Happily for all concerned, things have improved for Britton and for Swansea since then.
"I couldn't have dreamt when I came on loan, or when I signed permanently the following summer, that ten years later I would still be here and we'd be eighth in the Premier League and talking about a major cup final," Britton concedes.
"It wasn't long ago we would only get to the FAW Premier Cup final.
"I am proud that as the club have moved on, I have been able to keep on playing. I have been fortunate that I have been able to improve and keep my place in the team."
Whoever is in the dugout — and he has now played for six full-time bosses at the club — Britton has always got his fair share of games at Swansea.
He has not always played under Michael Laudrup, but he remains a central figure at a club where is now part of the furniture.
And the 30-year-old has fingers crossed that he will be given a taste of the action this weekend, for tomorrow's trip to West Ham will be a special occasion for him.
"I have been waiting 14 years for a chance to play a league game at Upton Park," Britton says.
"I never made a squad, I never travelled for a game when I was there.
"It was disappointing that I didn't even get close, especially with the boys around me breaking through.
"There was (Jermain) Defoe, (Glen) Johnson, (Joe) Cole, (Michael) Carrick. They were top players, but I got left behind a little bit.
"I have waited a long time to get on that pitch, so hopefully it will be a good day."
Britton has run out at the home of the Hammers before.
"I played there in maybe three or four youth cup games," he adds.
"The first one was when I was 15 and playing for Arsenal — West Ham went on to the win the cup that year.
"Then I played for West Ham against Southend and Glen Johnson scored a hat-trick even though he was playing in defence. He wasn't a bad player even then.
"There were a few reserve games as well, but nothing special.
"The youth cup games were something special at the time — playing at Upton Park and in front of a big crowd.
"But obviously it's going to be completely different this weekend. It's going to be a bit busier!"
And a little trickier, too.
Sam Allardyce's side have not had much joy on their travels in recent weeks, but they have been impressive on their patch all season.
"They are a physical team with some big lads so it's going to be a tough game for us," says Britton.
"Historically Upton Park has always been a tough place to go for opposition players, but we have done well on the road recently so hopefully we can get another good result."