Tributes paid to Hibs legend Eric Stevenson after cancer battle

Eric Stevenson and John Connelly during the Hibs v St Johnstone game at Easter Road in August 1970.

Eric Stevenson and John Connelly during the Hibs v St Johnstone game at Easter Road in August 1970.

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Tributes were today being paid to former Hibs winger Eric Stevenson, who has died at the age of 74 following a battle with cancer.

Throughout the 1960s, Stevenson provided plenty of entertainment for the Easter Road support, giving the Capital club ten years of service as he played 390 games, scoring 79 goals.

As a lifelong Hibs fan Stevenson had actually begun his career by signing for arch-rivals Hearts as a schoolboy. He had, however, put his name to a full professional contract, the intent being it would be kept in the drawer of Hearts manager Tommy Walker until he was old enough.

The SFA, however, got wind of what had happened leading to a £150 fine for the Gorgie club and one of £75 for Walker.

Hibs stepped in to sign the youngster – born on Christmas Day 1942 in the South Lanarkshire mining village of Eastfield – and before the age of 18 he’d made his debut alongside Ronnie Simpson and Sammy Baird.

Equally at home on either wing, Stevenson invariably sported the No.11 shirt, performing not only on the domestic stage but on those big European nights against the likes of Liverpool, Red Star Belgrade and Valencia while his performance against AS Roma saw him linked with a move to Italian side Lazio while he was still a teenager.

Stevenson scored in Hibs’ 3-0 win over FC Porto at Easter Road and also did so against Lisbon club Belenenses and Olimpija Ljubljana but, he reserved some of his best performances for Edinburgh derbies, the object of some choice abuse from the Hearts support who saw a player dubbed “The Rebel” as having rejected their club.

Perhaps the most memorable was the derby of September 1965 when, in a whirlwind start, Hibs went 4-0 up with all four goals coming in the opening ten minutes with Stevenson and Jimmy O’Rourke claiming two each.

Other than one appearance for the Scottish League, international recognition eluded Stevenson – who readily admitted he enjoyed the social side of football – a fact which former Hibs captain Pat Stanton confesses still bemuses him.

He said: “Eric was a really, really good player, a lot quicker than people thought. I’ve always thought it was hard to believe a player like that was never capped for Scotland when you look back at some who have been over the years. Some deserved it, some made you wonder.

“But Eric could have played on that stage, no problem. He was an exciting player but on a personal level what I remember is when I first started, coming in from Bonnyrigg Rose – Eric lived there – we’d sometimes travel in his car and he’d give you little bits of advice.

“He was a big, big help to me and if you did well he was genuinely pleased for you. I was actually out to see Eric at his home a couple of weeks ago and although you could see he was ill he was still very lucid. Davie Hogg, another former Hibs player, was there so we had a good chat about the older days.”

Stanton described Stevenson as one of the nicest people you could get to know, a sentiment echoed by Easter Road historian Tom Wright, who co-wrote Stevenson’s recently published book “Hibs Through and Through”.

He said: “It was a pleasure to have watched Eric play so many great games but I’d really got to know him in the last couple of years.

“Eric just got on with everybody. Writing the book, looking for a wee bit of spice I’d ask him about certain players saying ‘I’d heard he was a right so and so,’ but Eric would just say ‘I liked him’.”