FEW players can boast making 400 league appearances in their career, but Dean Lewington can claim to do it for just one club.
This Saturday’s game against Bury at stadium:mk will see the inspirational Dons skipper reach that incredible landmark in just nine years, barely missing a game since moving to Milton Keynes in 2004.
Since then, Lewington, 28, has survived relegation, then suffered relegation, won promotion, and also felt more play-off heartache than anyone cares to think about.
However, with his 400th league appearance looming, Lewington admitted he didn’t realise that his landmark was on the horizon until recently.
“It’s a nice milestone for me. It’s a lot of games! It’s something that has crept up on me, I don’t really pay attention to the numbers, and then you hit quite a big one,” said the Dons captain.
“I only found out the other day. In the programme, you see the roll call but you don’t really think about it. In the last few weeks I’ve known it’s been on the horizon.
“It’s a lot of games and it feels it! It’s nice to have done it with one club. I didn’t think I’d ever achieve it to be honest.
“Along the way, I suppose my highlights are the same as any other MK Dons fan – Edds’ goal on the last day of the season (against Tranmere Rovers to keep Dons in League 1), going up and beating Peterborough United away 2-1 in that promotion season.
“When I first got in the team, Stuart Murdoch said you weren’t a proper footballer until you’ve played 100 games!
“It’s pretty good going to do it before I’m 30 too! It’s all been with one club – there’s been ups, downs and it’s been its own little journey. It’s been interesting. I’m trying to put the testimonial off because it makes me feel old! But there will be something along the way.”
Manager Karl Robinson has paid tribute to his captain, saying that Lewington’s achievements at MK Dons go much further than just his actions out on the pitch.
He said: “It’s remarkable and he deserves tremendous respect. It’s nice that we can stand there and applaud him – and give him the respect he deserves.
“Over the course of the last five years or six seasons, he has been the catalyst to a lot of the good things at the club. Not just on the pitch, but in the community.
“He plays with injuries, he’s an old fashioned footballer, and he’s someone who is available to play every week.”
Having seen so much in his career with the club, Lewington admits he still feels proud to pull on the captain’s armband.
“Keith (Andrews) had left a week into the season and then the armband was placed on my peg,” he said. “No-one had said anything before hand, it was just there on a match day. At the time, and even now, it’s still makes me proud to do it.”
Three hundred and ninety-nine league appearances ago, Lewington was preparing for his professional debut, warming up as a substitute at Hillsborough.
“I came on for about two minutes and touched the ball once,” he recalled. “It was a very nervous time to come on. It felt like progress because I’d been on the bench for about three months before so it was nice to get on the pitch.
“We were losing 4-2 so the game was gone, but a few of us young players came on and became first-teamers. I think I was second or third to last to get on from my youth team, so it was nice to get on.
“I waited nearly five months for my first start. It was against Bradford at home and was a live TV game. We won 2-1. It was nice, because it was basically my youth team that was playing – they’d sold pretty much everyone by then!
“It was nice to do it with your mates and a good experience at a bad time when the club was in freefall.”
Nine years on from his debut, Lewington admits to becoming ‘part of the furniture’ in the Dons dressing room nowadays. At Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, Robinson named three teenagers on his substitutes’ bench, and the skipper says he is using his experience to help the club’s new generation of youngsters come through the ranks.
He said: “It’s so nice to see the young kids on the bench and coming on. You can see the difference and see them progress – even Dele (Alli) from when he first came in to where he is now, he’s so much more confident.
“When you first get in, you’re afraid to talk to anyone, and before you know it you’re part of the furniture. People accept you and you move on.
“I felt it too. When I got around the first team, there were some big players in there and you want to please them. In training, they’d shout for the ball, and even if they were marked and you had a better option on, you’d pass them the ball because you were scared of getting an earful!
“You don’t want to make mistakes and you want to impress all the time. Everyone goes through it though.
“It’s up to the older pros, like me and Smithy, to put your arm around them and give them both sides. People will lose their temper, but you need a balance of encouragement and make them better.
“We had David Connelly for us. He was the most aggressive in training, but always had something nice to say afterwards. It was good to have someone so demanding on the pitch but had another side and said something good after.”