“Mental” was the short but emphatic reaction of Lewis Stevenson when confronted with a list of the 132 players he has called team-mates as he enters his tenth season as a Hibs player.
From Simon Brown to Scott Allan and all those in between, 26-year-old Stevenson has been the one constant in a career which now has him playing under his seventh manager in Alan Stubbs.
Along the way there have been plenty of highs and just as many disappointments, but none greater than Hibs’ catastrophic fall from grace and the relegation which today has him preparing for an experience he never thought he would encounter – playing outside the top flight of Scottish football for the very first time.
It all kicks off tomorrow with the visit of Livingston, but it is a challenge the Kirkcaldy-born player is ready to meet with the same stoicism with which he faced the seemingly unending changes and upheavals which have gripped the Easter Road club through the years.
“We’ve only ourselves to blame,” he insists. “Last Christmas we were looking at top six having beaten Kilmarnock, Ross County and Hearts in the space of a week, but for whatever reason it fell apart and we got what we deserved.
“We had plenty of chances to put things right, we didn’t take them and we are where we are today because of that.”
Throwing away a two-goal lead against Hamilton in the second leg of the play-off, ultimately losing their place in the Premiership on penalties, has left Hibs facing the toughest of seasons with Rangers and Capital rivals Hearts also gunning for the one automatic promotion place which taking the title carries.
He said: “It’s a strange set of circumstances. The play-offs were introduced and through our own fault we got caught up in them and now we’re in a league that no-one probably envisaged with Rangers and Hearts also in it.
“I think it suits us that most people are talking of Rangers winning it with the players and the massive budget they have and Hearts being second. We know it’s going to be a tough season and that there are other clubs who will have a say in things, but we are quietly confident we have enough in our squad.
“I think we showed that on Tuesday night at Ibrox. We competed with Rangers, more than matched them for long periods and were very unlucky to lose in extra time after Danny Handling had been sent off.
“But our performance at Ibrox counts for nothing now, the league is our priority and it’s important we get off to a good start with three points from Livingston. However, we know they’ll be up for it just as much as us because it’s the first league game of the season. Our home record hasn’t been at all good in the past couple of seasons but the big pitch should suit the style of play the new gaffer has brought in. If we have the ball more than the opposition then they can’t score while we’ve got it but we then have to turn possession into being creative and having a cutting edge in front of goal.
“It will be important this season to have a good home record. If we don’t, then we won’t have a chance of getting promotion. Having said that, if we play like we did against Rangers then we have every chance of picking up a good few points.”
Even if he appears to be “in with the bricks”, Stevenson revealed he has every intention of taking the same approach as he has since Tony Mowbray handed him his debut as a 17-year-old in a League Cup tie against Ayr United. It has stood him in good stead as John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon all came and went, the former Scotland Under-21 star having now clocked up more than 220 first-team appearances.
He admits every change of manager brings a degree of uncertainty with more than a few of his former team-mates having undoubtedly found their time at Easter Road cut short after failing to find favour with the new incumbent.
But while he agrees an almost annual change of boss hasn’t worked in Hibs favour, Stevenson insists there is a new air of positivity with the arrival of new chief executive Leeann Dempster, Stubbs and his backroom team of Andy Holden, John Doolan and Alan Combe.
He said: “Everyone is looking to the future. To be honest, things couldn’t have got any lower but the place has been lifted, all the players are enjoying the football the manager wants us to play and we’re looking forward to righting a few wrongs.
“From my own point of view I’ll just continue as I have under every manager. I just get my head down, work hard and hope I fit in with the manager’s plans. Sometimes it’s taken me a wee while to get into the team, sometimes I’ve gone straight in but I’ve worked hard for every manager.
“I’ve never felt a sense of security, that I’ll play just because I’m here. You have to stay on your toes because at a club like this there’s always someone looking to take your place.
“Funnily enough, though, one of my most enjoyable times was when Yogi was manager, even although I struggled to get into the team. When I did I let myself down but there was no-one to blame but myself for that and we were pretty successful in the league, getting into Europe.
“I have to admit there were times then when I thought about getting out on loan just to get playing, but I’ve enjoyed it for the most part.
“It’s hard to think I’ve been here for so long. There’s been the highs and the obvious lows, but now it’s all about helping the team getting back to winning ways.”