Lewis Stevenson has been pulling on a green-and-white jersey for so long that it’s hard to imagine a Hibs side having taken to the field without him.
Already the Easter Road club’s longest serving player, Stevenson’s durability was again highlighted as he signed yet another new contract, the two-year deal offering ample opportunity for him to take his place at the very top end of the list of all-time appearances.
Currently he sits just outside the top ten with 425 games to his name, but with nine matches to be played in the coming weeks, Stevenson could well equal the 434 outings of Erich Schaedler who, for now, occupies tenth spot.
However, when you consider the vast bulk of this season has yet to be played and take into account the next two years, it is not inconceivable that, provided he stays injury free and doesn’t suffer from a drastic loss of form, Stevenson could find himself sitting fourth among the all-time greats – admittedly still a bit short of Pat Stanton, Arthur Duncan and Gordon Smith, but comfortably ahead of Willie Ormond who played 506 times for Hibs.
Stevenson, though, says such statistics will only interest him when his playing days are over and his boots hung up for the last time, well aware of how the footballing fates can change in an instant.
And as he heads towards his 31st birthday, he is also conscious of the fact that, as with every player, time will eventually catch up with him.
He said: “You can’t look too far into the future. I’m playing a lot of games just now, but things can change very quickly. The club could bring someone else in or another young player might come through, I know that.
“I’m getting older and that’s football. I’m open-minded, I know that’s going to happen, but I am enjoying my football just now and feel I have a lot to give, that I still have a lot more games in my legs.”
Stevenson feels that’s reflected in his contract having been extended to the summer of 2021, saying: “Yes, I’d love to make 500, but that’s a long, long way away. I’ve been lucky with injuries in recent years, they have been few and far between which has helped.
“But I just focus on things game by game. I said when I made my 100th appearance that I never thought I’d play so many games – and said the same thing when I made my 200th, 300th and 400th.”
Now in his 14th season at Easter Road, Stevenson – the only player to have won both the Scottish and League Cups with Hibs – acknowledges that while he has seen off all-comers for his left-back berth, the day when he has to make way will, inevitably, come.
He said: “It’s going to happen. Miquel Nelom has come in from a top club [Feyenoord], with a top pedigree and I’m sure he’ll be vying to play, while Sean Mackie is coming through. He’s one of the top talents here and has all the attributes to be a top professional.
“If it happens I won’t be one to spit the dummy, I’ll help them and the club in any way I can.”
Having said that, Stevenson insisted he sees that day, as he does the prospect of a 500th appearance, as a long way off.
“I’m not here to rest on my laurels,” he said of his new contract. “We’ve been talking about quantity of games – but it’s quality games you are remembered by.
“I don’t just want to tick up games for the sake of it. I want to make a difference and I feel I can. I still believe I have a lot to prove.”
He’ll continue to do so wearing the No.16 shirt he has made his own, revealing that he’s resisted the chance to trade it in for the more recognisable No.3 jersey of someone playing his position.
He said: “I started wearing No.26 and it was John Collins who gave me No.16. I had fond memories of No.26 and when I made a slow start with No.16 on my back I blamed it more than anything else.
“But 16 is my son’s favourite number and, of course, we won the Scottish Cup in 2016 so there’s lots of happy memories in it now. When they start moving me back up to No.26 and then No.36 I’ll know that’s probably it.”
Stevenson’s immediate focus, though, is on game number 426, Saturday’s visit from the Premiership’s basement club Dundee, one in which he and his team-mates will be looking to put an end to a run of four games without a win.
Neil Lennon’s players have had the international break to reflect on their shortcomings, while that record has provoked much muttering among a Hibs support which saw their side slide from second to eighth in the table.
Stevenson revealed the mood of those within the changing room was just as unhappy but, he argued, such a reaction was perhaps a barometer of how well the team has been doing over the course of the past couple of seasons or so.
He said: “I think those games could easily have gone either way and rather than three defeats in four we might have ended up with three draws.
“In years gone by, though, no-one would probably have blinked an eye at such a run, but now because we’ve been doing pretty well it’s highlighted all the more. However, there’s only one way to change that and that’s by getting a good result.”
Lennon’s preparations for Saturday, however, have been hampered by the fact there have been a number of players away on international duty, not least the Australian trio of Mark Milligan, Jamie Maclaren and Martin Boyle, who are on their way back to Edinburgh after friendlies against South Korea and Lebanon down under.
Stevenson expects to find Boyle flying as high as the jet which brought them back to Scotland after the winger – who qualifies for the Socceroos thanks to his father Graeme having been born in Sydney – scored twice against Lebanon in his first start for the Aussies.
Admitting he was surprised Scotland hadn’t made a move for Edinburgh-born Boyle, Stevenson said: “Martin has been absolutely flying for us. He’s not only established himself as a top player at Hibs, but as one of the top players in the league.
“I’m delighted for him – all the boys are. It’s the reward for all the hard work he has put in. It’s amazing to think that only a few years ago he was playing for Montrose and now he is in the international spotlight.
“To be playing and scoring at international level can only take him onto a new level. It will have given his confidence a great boost.”
HIBS’ LEADING APPEARANCES HOLDERS
Gordon Smith: 636
Arthur Duncan: 626
Pat Stanton: 617
Willie Ormond: 506
Eddie Turnbull: 487
Peter Kerr: 483
Bobby Combe: 467
Johnny Halligan: 457
Matthew Paterson: 445
Erich Schaedler: 434