Hibs hero Lewis deserves to be remembered as a true great

A teenage Stevenson with his Man of the Match award at the 2007 League Cup Final.A teenage Stevenson with his Man of the Match award at the 2007 League Cup Final.
A teenage Stevenson with his Man of the Match award at the 2007 League Cup Final. | SNS
Stevenson rarely sought the limelight - but could never be overlooked

From rising young star to mentor and role model, youthful prospect to the most decorated player in club history, Lewis Stevenson’s footballing journey is a testament to the wisdom of staying in one place. If news that he’s finally moving on from Hibs was always going to hit hard, it also provides fans with a perfect opportunity to express their appreciation for a remarkable footballer.

And what a warrior he has been. A one-club man who has always seemed at his most content when playing in the green-and-white of Hibs. If he can’t possibly have enjoyed every single day of almost two decades in service to the Easter Road cause, his consistency and competitiveness have provided a foundation for some genuinely stratospheric highlights.

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The only player to have won both a Scottish Cup and League Cup with Hibs, Stevenson’s style has always been solid rather than flashy, dogged in situations where others might attempt to dazzle. That is not to say, however, that he hasn’t created the odd headline. Starting as a very young Man of the Match in his first senior appearance at Hampden.

Anyone who was at the League Cup Final in March of 2007 will recall seeing this fresh-faced 19-year-old steal the show at Scotland’s national stadium. In central midfield, no less. Picked ahead of one Michael Stewart, Lewis was a revelation.

On a day when Steven Fletcher and Abdessalam Benjelloun bagged two goals apiece, with skipper Rob Jones getting the other in a 5-1 thrashing of Kilmarnock, Stevenson was considered to have performed better than anyone. Including, among others, fellow starters Scott Brown – you’ve heard of him – and a certain Guillaume Beuzelin.

Even more impressive than his tidy use of the ball and excellent defensive positioning was the kid’s commitment to playing through the moving patch of quicksand that seemed to follow him around the Hampden pitch late in the contest. Whether it was nervous exhaustion or volunteering for the rumoured 5k run back to Easter Road after a pre-match training session, the sort of chatter that was all too believable with John Collins as manager, Stevenson was burst long before full-time. But soldiered on.

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Because the boy from Kirkcaldy is, and always has been, a grafter. Someone willing to put in the extra hours. Extremely coachable. And, at his peak, one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league.

You could genuinely use footage of Stevenson in his prime as an example of how to play left back. Plenty of wingers tried to get past him. A few did. But he rarely made the sort of mistake that gifted an opponent easy passage. Almost always did the right thing, forcing the wide boys to do something unexpected to create space for a cross.

Going forward, he wasn’t always conservative, by any means. He’s scored a couple of screamers, for starters. And he was more than just a willing decoy runner on the overlap.

In terms of how his career stacks up, well, he’s been there for everything that Hibs have endured and enjoyed since breaking through into the first team. Relegation and promotion. Big wins and agonising losses. Plus, of course, one magical day in May of 2016.

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Hibernian's Lewis Stevenson (centre) celebrates with the Scottish Cup in 2016.Hibernian's Lewis Stevenson (centre) celebrates with the Scottish Cup in 2016.
Hibernian's Lewis Stevenson (centre) celebrates with the Scottish Cup in 2016.

One of the best things about witnessing any Scottish Cup victory celebrations is seeing just how much it means to players. Nobody, absolutely nobody, was more exhilarated by Hibs finally lifting the curse than Stevenson, a character who seemed to exude pure, sweet, undiluted joy in the days and weeks following that dramatic final triumph in Glasgow.

No appreciation of his efforts at Easter Road and East Mains would be complete, of course, without mentioning how Stevenson – by now a wizened veteran – helped nurture the obvious talent of Josh Doig, who regularly name-checked his team-mate when talking about his progression to the first team. When the young left back moved to Serie A side Hellas Verona in the summer of 2022, netting Hibs a tidy transfer fee in the process, plenty of wits suggested that the guy wearing No. 16 on his back should receive a cut of the profits.

Stevenson naturally remained unfailingly modest about his role in Doig’s development, insisting that his tutelage had been restricted to “little pointers here and there” and declaring: “It’s been nothing to do with me. He’s done it all himself.”

Back in the first team after Doig’s departure, Stevenson looked set to carry on doing what he done for most of his career. Seeing off the competition of anyone likely to challenge his role as a starter. Working harder than ever. But never putting his own personal ambition before the needs of the team.

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Just one short of the 600-game mark for the only club he’s ever represented, he’ll hit that high point at some point over the closing three fixtures of the season. When that moment comes, he will undoubtedly be afforded the warmest of ovations by supporters who, in a fractious season of upset and calamity, are united in their appreciation for a player who lived out their dreams. And never seemed to forget how lucky he was to enjoy that privilege.