Like every young boy, Lewis Stevenson dreamed of one day playing at Hampden.
Today, however, the Hibs player has almost lost count of the number of times he’s been at the national stadium, Saturday’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic his sixth visit in just the last 30 months alone.
But, he insisted, that thrill will never leave him, one he first felt as a 15-year-old playing for Scotland against England in the Victory Shield.
Since then Stevenson has been back time and again for semi-finals and finals, the ecstasy of winning tempered in no small measure by the agony of losing.
He said: “I’ve been lucky to be involved in teams that have had great cup runs. I have some good memories and others that I’d rather forget.
“But as a player in Scotland Hampden is the arena you want to play in, it’s an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to Saturday as much as the first time – I’ll be just as nervous.”
Six short weeks ten years ago brought home in no uncertain fashion the highs and the lows such matches can provoke, Stevenson man of the match as Hibs thumped Kilmarnock 5-1 to lift the CIS Insurance Cup, a quick-fire return to Hampden harbouring hopes that John Collins’ side could add that long awaited Scottish Cup.
But bitter disappointment awaited, a late and disputed Jim McIntyre penalty clinching a semi-final replay win for Dunfermline, who went on to narrowly lose the final to Celtic.
Stevenson recalled: “Obviously to win a cup at Hampden is a fantastic feeling but those Dunfermline games brought it home just how these matches can go.
“We had two bites of the cherry as there were still replays at the time and we really did feel we could go on and win it so, naturally, we were bitterly disappointed.”
Stevenson was back at Hampden again in a very short space of time as Hibs began their defence of the CIS Cup against Queens Park early the next season, but he had to wait almost five more years before he’d play there again only to wish he hadn’t, Pat Fenlon’s side crushed 5-1 by Capital rivals Hearts.
Further heartbreak followed the next season, Stevenson having watched from the bench as Hibs came from 3-0 down at half-time against Falkirk to claim their place in the final and another defeat, this time from Celtic.
The 29-year-old said: “Obviously 2012 was the lowest of the low, you never quite get over it. People say you need to go through that sort of thing to appreciate the highs, but it’s one I try to erase from my mind.
“Back-to-back cup finals was quite an achievement for any team, even more so for one that wasn’t doing well in the league, but no-one ever remembers the runners-up.”
A Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Falkirk in Alan Stubbs’ first year as manager was followed by a Leauge Cup final against Ross County, Hibs having beaten St Johnstone in the semi-final at Tynecastle just as they had in 2007.
The defeat they suffered that day, however, was quickly forgotten as, after 114 years of trying, Stevenson and his team-mates wrote their names large in the history books as they lifted the Scottish Cup, their defence of that trophy ended only at the semi-final stage by Aberdeen last season.
Stevenson said: “The last few years we have been a very good cup team, if you keep getting to semi-finals and finals then one day it is going to happen for you.
“Like the Falkirk semi-final the game against Ross County was one where we were probably the better team, but the one thing you learn in such games is that means nothing. I would rather be played off the park and win it than be the better team and lose. Come Saturday, if Celtic were by far the better team but we scraped a 1-0 win then I’d take it.”
Stevenson is well aware there are some who say Hibs have enjoyed the luck of the draw in the Betfred Cup, although he pointed out that was hardly the case when, as a Championship side, they were beating Premiership teams left, right and centre on their way to those finals two seasons ago.
He said: “You can only play who you are drawn against. In the last round Livingston had only lost one in 13 when we played them and I’m sure they’d have given plenty of other sides as tough a game as we had against them. Now it’s Celtic and everyone knows that on their day they are by far the best team in the country. But if you are going to win it, you have to beat the best. We got a look at them a few weeks ago, competed well and came close to winning but this will be a different game.
“We’ll work on our strengths this week and if we can stay in the game, we have the players who can win it.”
Celtic face Bayern Munich in the Champions League tonight, but, insisted Stevenson, that won’t be a factor come Saturday. He said: “They’ve got such a squad that I’m sure that even if they played Friday night they’d still put out a strong team the next day.”