Brentford fans will have much to celebrate on Saturday – including, hopefully, Kevin O’Connor’s 500th appearance for the club.
Kevin is a member of an increasingly rare breed of players – those who only play for one club during their entire professional career – and the Bees’ versatile club captain has remained loyal to Brentford since signing his first professional contract in 1999.
The esteem in which he is held by supporters was shown by the reception he received when coming on as a substitute in the last two away games, at MK Dons and Colchester.
The welcome at Milton Keynes, when more than 3,300 fans gave him a standing ovation on to the pitch, he said particularly touched him.
“He knows more than many of his team-mates what promotion really means to us supporters.”
It would be a fitting tribute if O’Connor started Saturday’s match against Stevenage so he can lead the team out, play most of the game and then be substituted late on so he can go off to another deserved standing ovation.
What is it about the 32-year-old that so endears him to Brentford fans?
It’s not just his loyalty – although that is a big factor, especially as he has seen plenty of talented squads break up with several players moving to the top two divisions.
It’s not just his talent, reliability and versatility, which has seen him play as a striker, right-back, central defender and midfielder during his time at the club.
His flexibility was never shown more than in the closing games of last season when he had to play in the middle of defence for the first time in his career, in matches which could have decided promotion, because of Tony Craig’s suspension.
It’s not just his resilience and nerves of steel – as demonstrated when he converted the penalty in injury time in the first leg of last season’s play-off semi-final against Swindon, just a week after he had not been able to take that crucial penalty against Doncaster.
It’s not just that he has suffered some of the dark days of play-off failures and relegation to the fourth tier along with the fans, so knows more than many of his team-mates what promotion really means to us supporters.
And it’s not just that he is a thoroughly nice guy, as I found out a few years ago when he agreed to be interviewed at the training ground by my then seven-year-old son for a school project on healthy eating.
After a long session in which he was among the last players to leave, O’Connor gave my son half an hour of his time, answered his questions properly and even gave him a signed shirt.
It’s a combination of all these factors, and more, that make O’Connor a Brentford legend in the hearts of supporters, both young and old.
O’Connor made his Brentford debut in February 2000 as a late substitute in an Auto Windscreens Shield tie at Exeter and made his first start in a league game against Wycombe four days later.
He first established himself in the side under Steve Coppell in the 2001/02 season and has been a regular ever since, barring injury absences, although he has featured less during this campaign.
Known as a penalty taker throughout his career he had the unusual experience of scoring three spot-kicks in a Worthington Cup tie at Bournemouth – two in normal time and another in a shoot-out.
During that same season, he also won six caps for the Republic of Ireland Under-21 team.
O’Connor has recently signed a new one-year contract with Brentford – a deal which will also include some coaching responsibilities.
And if he plays against Stevenage he will join fellow defenders Ken Coote and Jamie Bates in the Bees’ 500-appearance club.
Coote holds the record with 559 matches for Brentford, 514 in the league, while Bates, who played for the club the last time they were in the second tier, in 1992/93, made 524 appearances, 419 in league matches.
Time will tell if O’Connor can overtake either of those two. Either way, he will always be revered by Brentford fans.