Persevere is the motto of Leith, but it is a word which could have been coined especially for Lewis Stevenson.
The little Hibs left-back has certainly shown plenty of perseverance in a career which began away back when, as a raw 17-year-old much rated within Easter Road but unknown to the vast majority of fans, made a surprise appearance in a pre-season friendly against St Pat’s Athletic in Dublin.
He turned in such a performance it took then manager Tony Mowbray only a couple of months to throw him into first-team action, a debut away to Ayr United in the League Cup when among his team-mates were the likes of Derek Riordan, Gary Caldwell Steven Fletcher and Guillaume Beuzelin.
Since that night at Somerset Park in 2005, Stevenson has amassed 362 appearances in a green-and-white shirt, now, at 29 the Capital club’s current longest serving player with Neil Lennon his ninth manager.
Along the years the boy from Kirkcaldy, but the adopted son of Leith, has taken to the pitch alongside an incredible 167 team-mates in competitive matches, many of whom Hibs fans would have wished to have stayed longer, others more readily forgettable and some even the most ardent supporter would struggle to remember.
Philip Airey, Joe Keenan, Steve Pinau, Valdas Trakys or Abdellah Zoubir anyone?
Stevenson himself would be the first to admit he’s not every Hibs supporters favourite player, but the one thing that no-one can question is his durability, his worth to the club over the past 12 years highlighted in the days leading up to yesterday’s testimonial match against Sunderland as past team-mates and manager alike paid tribute to him.
And a number of those who had shared a dressing room were at Easter Road in person, current Celtic and Scotland skipper Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Anthony Stokes. Leigh Griffiths, Liam Henderson and Fraser Fyvie sitting alongside each other in Easter Road’s main stand.
Their presence neatly encapsulated the most memorable moments of Stevenson’s time with the club, Brown and Whittaker team-mates when he turned in a man-of-the-match performance aged just 19 as Hibs thumped Kilmarnock 5-1 to lift the CIS Insurance Cup.
Stokes, Henderson and Fyvie recalled a more recent high, the 2016 Scottish Cup triumph over Rangers which ended that agonising 114-year wait for that particular trophy.
Stevenson is now the only Hibs player to have won both the League and Scottish Cups, a fact reflected in the “Lewy’s Got Two” title of his testimonial year.
There have, of course, been more than a few dark days for both him and Hibs, that crushing Scottish Cup final defeat by arch rivals Hearts which five years on is still raw and the shock of relegation, causing a dark hole of three years of Championship football from which Hibs are finally emerging.
Throughout all these trials and tribulations Stevenson has been widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in football, a humble, self-effacing individual who has appeared genuinely embarrassed at the fuss being made over him.
Deep down, though, you feel that he’s proud as punch. Rarely in the modern game do players last so long at the same club – in fact, there are now fewer than 20 in the 142 years of Hibs history to have featured in so many matches.
Naturally it was left to Stevenson to lead his team-mates out for the visit of the Black Cats, accompanied by his five-year-old son Louie and daughter Luna, two, to a standing ovation.
A day for celebration but one tinged with sadness as both sets of fans paid tribute to Bradley Lowery, the six-year-old Sunderland fan who caught the hearts of football supporters the length and breadth of the country who lost his fight against neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, on Friday.
Bradley had been a mascot at the Stadium of Light on several occasions, had led England out at Wembley and was a close friend of former Black Cats striker Jermain Defoe, the Sunderland fans accommodated in Easter Road south stand chanting “Bradley Lowery, he’s one of our own”.
And on the sixth minute of the game, both sets of supporters rose to their feet for 60 seconds applause to mark his passing.
Stevenson himself had already indicated he’d be marking Bradley’s death, he and his wife Julia deciding a proportion of the proceeds from this match, from which he had already promised half to local charities, would be going to the fund set up in Bradley’s name.
Having enjoyed that reception, Stevenson almost became the villain of the piece after only three minutes, bringing down Wahbi Khazri a yard outside his own penalty area. To his relief, Khazri’s free-kick caught a head in the defensive wall and crashed back off Ofir Marciano’s crossbar.
John McGinn and Danny Swanson brought Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone into action before Khazri’s low shot prompted Marciano into a smart save, the Israeli internationalist getting down low to his left.
Khazri continued to be Sunderland’s dangerman and two minutes before the interval he put Simon Grayson’s side ahead, side-footing home a volley after Billy Jones’ burst down the left had taken him clear of the home defence.
Martin Boyle almost levelled things on the stroke of half-time, thundering in a shot which Mannone turned aside, but nine minutes after the restart Hibs were two down, Rees Greenwood backheeling the ball for fellow substitute Jeremain Lens to slide a low shot beyond Marciano. The Hibs goalkeeper was beaten again by Lee Cattermole’s shot, but on this occasion the bar came to his rescue.
The Black Cats had made 11 changes at half-time despite having named only seven substitutes and Mika Domingues, who had replaced Mannone, would have known he should have done much better when Boyle drilled the ball below him at his near post.
Three minutes later Hibs were level, skipper David Gray’s run resulting in an inviting low ball which Simon Murray had no trouble in turning home.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon had promised this would be no exhibition match and it erupted in the 74th minute, Cattermole going in high on Marvin Bartley who reacted furiously, prompting a melee involving many players. Referee Gavin Duncan settled for a word of warning.
Having made his entrance to rapturous applause, Stevenson took his leave with six minutes remaining, again to a standing ovation not only from the fans but his team-mates and opposition players alike.
By then, though, Hibs might have been ahead, Brian Graham just failing to get on the end of McGeouch’s low cross before then knocking the ball down for Oli Shaw, the teenager smashing it off the underside of the bar.
Hibs: Marciano, Gray (S Martin 76), McGregor, Fontaine (Porteous 60), Stevenson, Boyle, McGeouch (Pennant 60), Bartley (F Murray 76), McGinn, S Murray (Shaw 76), Swanson (Graham 60).
Substitutes not used: Laidlaw, Crane.
Sunderland: Mannone, Love, Jones, Gibbon, Kone, Djilobodji, Honeyman, Embleton, Maja, Rodwell, Khazri.
Substitutes: Domingues, Matthews, Robson, Gooch, Greenwood, O’Shea, Beadling.
Referee: G Duncan.