IT is ironic that Ryan Stevenson is now a Hearts idol given his controversial walkout at Tynecastle little over two years ago.
The bizarre turnaround has surprised even the man himself, who today expressed his honour and privilege at captaining the club in Danny Wilson’s absence.
Stevenson has donned the armband against Hibs, Partick Thistle and Motherwell with regular captain Wilson beset by tonsilitis and a bacterial infection. Hearts have lost all three matches but their deputy skipper has revelled in the responsibility. He has had to lead his team’s attacking line for most of the season and is delighted with his role as a senior statesman within the squad.
“The kind of boy I am, it means a lot to me to captain Hearts and I said that to the manager,” Stevenson told the Evening News. “With everything that’s happened to me here, then to come out the other side of it and be asked to lead the team out is huge. Obviously, we want to get Danny back as soon as we can but every time I pull on that armband it’s a great privilege.”
As the prospect of Championship football becomes evermore realistic at Hearts, Stevenson stressed he is not concerned about dropping down a level. He previously played in Scottish football’s second tier with both St Johnstone and Ayr United and would not be against a return.
“If that does happen, then it’s about getting back up as soon as possible,” said the man who has attracted interest from clubs in China this season. “The main thing will be for the club still to be here. That’s the biggest issue. If we go down to the Championship then you take it on the chin. Hearts will come back bigger and stronger, I’m sure of that. It wouldn’t faze me playing in there again. If that’s the case and it happens then I’ll go with it.
“Being in the Championship with Hearts is not going to be a problem. My biggest wish is to get them back to where they belong as soon as possible.”
Stevenson returns to McDiarmid Park this weekend with Hearts 20 points adrift at the foot of the Scottish Premiership and running thin on players. They remain under a registration embargo despite appealing to the Scottish Professional Football League to make signings. Their latest request was rejected yesterday.
“It is what it is. The club has been punished and that’s the way it’s going to be. I don’t think we’re going to get any help,” said Stevenson. “The last owner broke the rules and we’re paying the price for it. We knew that was the situation at the beginning of the season and it’s going to stay that way all through the season.
“It’s disappointing because you come into the campaign full of hope. We started off like a train and then we’ve taken a massive dip. What the fans deserve more than anything is for us to go down fighting. We lost 1-0 against Motherwell on Saturday and got a standing ovation going off. That just shows how much the supporters are behind us. Hopefully that can spur us all on. We want the same performance at St Johnstone this weekend to try and turn these defeats into wins.
“I think we’ve let ourselves down over the last couple of weeks so it was important to put a performance in against Motherwell, more for the fans than anyone. They’ve had to suffer and we knew we had to perform for them. Motherwell are on a good run but we were more than in the game. It’s probably another sloppy goal to concede from our point of view.
“We’ve shown over the season – up at Aberdeen, then against Dundee United at home, and against Motherwell – that we can push these teams. The inconsistency is the biggest thing for us. The young boys have been asked to take on a massive task playing week in and week out in this league. That can take its toll physically and mentally.
“The biggest thing that the manager said after the game was about taking this on. We’ve shown we can give anybody a game. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be like that every week. If you can do it once, you can do it every week. We want to take this forward to St Johnstone and not take two or three steps back again.”