Having racked up nearly 350 appearances in a Millwall shirt, David Forde could be considered as a Lions great.
He may have lost his number one spot to the impressive Jordan Archer this season, but there is no denying his commitment and service to the Millwall cause over the last eight years.
During his stint at The Den, 'Fordey' has notched an FA Cup semi-final appearance, two play-off finals (with one promotion), a Player of the Year trophy and three consecutive seasons of appearing in every single minute of every single league game – not to mention the admiration and interest from Premier League clubs and the Irish national side.
It all began in the summer of 2008, as Kenny Jackett brought Forde to The Den for the next chapter of a varied career that had already seen visits to Galway United, Barry Town, West Ham United, Derry City, Barnet, Cardiff City, Luton Town and AFC Bournemouth.
The goalkeeper made his debut in a 4-3 defeat at Oldham Athletic on August 9, 2008 and went on to mark his territory between the sticks for a huge 147 consecutive league games. Steve Mildenhall's appearance in the 1-0 defeat at Southampton on August 20, 2011 put a stop to that. In fact, if not for Jackett opting to put John Sullivan in goal for a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie at Barnet on September 1, 2009, Forde would have completed 162 successive games in three seasons in all competitions.
During that period, the Irishman was involved in two play-off campaigns; one that ended in defeat on a scorching hot afternoon at Wembley Stadium against Scunthorpe United in a classic, with the other going the right way, as the Lions returned to the home of football the following season to defeat Swindon Town 1-0 and gain promotion to the Championship.
No wins in his first four games and a howler at home to Southend United early in the 2008-09 season made many question whether Forde was the right man for the number one jersey, but assured displays and a number of clean sheets over the rest of the campaign turned the fans in his favour, as the goalkeeper fast became a favourite and integral part of the side.
The 2009-10 season saw Forde become a spectator for large parts, as the Lions raced up the table to third position, missing out on automatic promotion on the final day, due to Leeds United's win over Bristol Rovers at Elland Road. The team kept a huge 21 clean sheets during this time and most of you will probably remember how Forde ended the season – sharing a cigar on live television with chairman John Berylson!
The stopper played every minute of every game as the Lions adapted to life back in the Championship in 2010-11, a season in which Forde caught the eye of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Forde was handed his first cap in the Carling Nations Cup, as a substitute for Shay Given in a game against Northern Ireland on May 24. Since then, Fordey has gone on to play a part in the country’s Euro 2012, World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 qualification campaigns. The upcoming Euros in France will be his second for his country.
The 2011-12 season proved to be a bit tougher for Forde, as his normally sure-fire slot in goal came under siege from Steve Mildenhall in the first half of the season and veteran Maik Taylor in the second half, with the Lions facing relegation from the second tier. Forde made just 27 appearances in the league that year and had to make do with seeing the last 10 games from the bench, as the form of Harry Kane and Andy Keogh kept the club in the division.
Taylor continued to rule as the 2012-13 campaign began, but with the Lions having suffered four defeats from their first six league games, Jackett reinstalled the Irishman between the sticks for the game against Brighton and Hove Albion on September 22. Millwall would lose that game 2-1, but would then embark on a 13-match unbeaten run, taking them to the brink of the play-offs, with loanee Chris Wood firing on all cylinders up front.
However, the topsy-turvy season would take another turn, as the departure of Wood and his strike partner, Darius Henderson, contributed to the Lions’ slide down the table. They survived on the final day, despite defeat by Derby County, with Kenny Jackett resigning shortly after the game.
The arrival of Steve Lomas as the Lions' new manager saw Forde sidelined for five of the first six games of the season, as new signing Stephen Bywater claimed the number one spot. But the Irishman regained his position against – again, ironically – Brighton at the end of August, playing in every game of the season, apart from a three-game spell in late January/early February when he was injured. Bywater had to replace Forde in the 44th minute of Ian Holloway's first home game as manager against Ipswich Town on January 18.
The 2014-15 campaign saw Forde return to the earlier days of his Lions career by playing in every minute of every game, but unfortunately for all, the season was to end in disappointment as the club was relegated back to League One.
This season has seen the keeper make eight appearances in the league – mostly down to Archer's sending off against Gillingham on December 19 – and two starts in cup games, in the FA Cup at home to AFC Fylde and in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at home to Oxford United, where an unfortunate and calamitous mistake ultimately cost the club dearly.
Despite being booked an immense 25 times in his career (that's quite a lot for a goalkeeper, Fordey!), he has never been sent off and has always been there for the club when needed.
Despite now appearing to have passed the torch to Archer, Forde has been a vital cog in the Millwall machine for many years. Recent memories may cloud judgement, but let's not forget the service of a man who has given so much.