Lewis Stevenson’s durability is unquestionable: 12 years a Hibs player, 362 matches in a green-and-white shirt played under no fewer than nine managers.
Tomorrow the little left back’s unstinting service to the Easter Road club will be rewarded with a testimonial match against Sunderland and, according to Hibs skipper David Gray, there’s no player more worthy of such an accolade.
While Gray has been Stevenson’s captain for the past two years, he revealed the two go back much further, to the days when they were a pair of 15-year-old’s playing for Scotland in the Victory Shield.
He said: “I also played under-16s, 17s, 19s and 21s with Lewy so I always knew he was going to do really well in his career, so it’s great to see him do that.
“I really can’t say anything about him that hasn’t already been said. He’s a model professional, one of the good guys in football who deserves everything he gets. Hopefully there will be a great turn-out for him.”
Since making his debut as a 17-year-old under Tony Mowbray – a League Cup tie away to Ayr United in 2005 – Stevenson has endured a rollercoaster ride, man of the match as Hibs lifted the CIS Insurance Cup at the age of 19 but then suffering the darker days of cup finals defeats and ultimately the misery of relegation.
And as the years passed, that Hampden triumph over Kilmarnock looked as if it would give the boy from Kirkcaldy his one and only winners’ medal. Today, of course, Lewy’s got two, the only Hibs player to have won both the League and Scottish Cups and, now, the Championship title which has returned the Capital club to the top flight of Scottish football.
Gray said: “Lewy has seen it all, he has said that much himself. It was great for him to win the League Cup so early in his career, but he has had a few disappointing results in cup finals and obviously the disappointment of relegation.
“It must have been very difficult for him but it shows nothings fazes him. He’s been fantastic since I have been at the club, a real role model for the young boys coming through, the likes of Callum Crane, Ryan Porteous and so on – they can look to him and learn.”
Despite the success he has enjoyed, Stevenson to this day comes across as a quiet, shy individual, someone who shuns the limelight and actually appears more than a touch embarrassed by the fuss being made over him by both tomorrow’s match and the testimonial dinner headlined by The Proclaimers back in September.
Stevenson has instructed that half the money from both events be given to charity, something that doesn’t surprise Gray in the slightest.
He said: “That’s just Lewy. He’s such a nice guy. At the end of the day he is the one who has earned the testimonial. He deserves everything he gets from that, but it shows his personality, his character, what he is as a person that he is willing to make such a large contribution to charities.”
Stevenson’s off-field persona is, however, in stark contrast to the guy who takes to the football pitch. Gray said: “I think his opponents would be the best people to ask what they think about Lewy as a football player.
“They know they are in for a game every single time. He is not the biggest, but he never knows when he is beaten. He has that little streak in him which is good, he never gives up, never shirks a tackle.”
While tomorrow’s match may be designed to pay tribute to Hibs longest serving player, Gray insisted it will be anything but the glorified training session so many such games have become, adamant he and his team-mates see it as an important part of their pre-season preparations.
It will also give many supporters their first chance to have a look at former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, who is likely to play some part in proceedings having scored in Thursday night’s 4-0 win over Dunfermline.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon is anxious to have an extended look at the 34-year-old before deciding whether to offer Pennant, who also struck the post with a super free-kick at East End Park, a contract.
Gray said: “Jermaine has been doing that in training, everyone knows his ability. He doesn’t need to prove what he has got, he has played at he very highest level. He’s a great guy, a fantastic player, a hard worker with a great attitude.”
As for tomorrow’s opponents, Gray said: “It’ll be good for us to test ourselves against them. They will be top, top players having played in the Premier League and they will fancy themselves to bounce right back.
“They’ve got a new manager to impress, they’ll be playing for their careers. We’re not treating it as Lewy’s testimonial, but the next step in our pre-season. It’s a chance for us to see where we are at the minute and to get a real good fitness work-out. At the moment it’s all about performance, making sure we are right for the start of the season.”