Lewis Stevenson looks back at journey from Hibs’ ‘horrible day’

Lewis Stevenson's Testimonial Fund is to give children the chance to become a mascot at Hibs home matches this season through it's backing of Leith Links, a charity which helps kids attend games at Easter Road. Pic: SNS
Lewis Stevenson's Testimonial Fund is to give children the chance to become a mascot at Hibs home matches this season through it's backing of Leith Links, a charity which helps kids attend games at Easter Road. Pic: SNS
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It is the question which will forever divide Hibs fans. Was relegation the shock needed to re-energise the Easter Road club?

The remarkable transformation which has happened in the course of the past three years may, arguably, have taken place had the Capital outfit not crashed into the Championship.

The facts, however, might suggest otherwise, the club finishing seventh, 11th and tenth in the seasons before going into freefall under Terry Butcher – a popular appointment only a few months earlier – and ending in the ignominy of losing their place at the top table, victims of the newly introduced play-offs.

Hibs supporters will need no reminder that it was today’s visitors Hamilton who ultimately swung the axe, coming back from losing 2-0 on their own ground to win a dramatic penalty shoot-out and so spark recriminations which threatened to tear the Edinburgh club apart.

It’s taken longer than hoped for their return to the Premiership – the disappointment of spending so long in the Championship eased in no small measure by that historic Scottish Cup triumph – but there’s little doubt Hibs have returned as a side bearing little or no comparison to those dark days in the first half of this decade.

The renewed sense of optimism prompted a record number to buy season tickets, the expectation heightened even further by opening victories over Partick Thistle and Rangers, the fans’ confidence also coursing through the veins of each and every one of Neil Lennon’s players.

Such has been the sea-change at Easter Road that only Lewis Stevenson remains of the 18 players who stripped for action on that fateful day in May, 2014, although the club’s longest serving player insisted those events hadn’t even entered his mind this week until reminded during the pre-match press conference.

“It was a horrible day,” he 
admitted, “And one we all want to forget. This seems like a much more positive place to be now, it’s very different circumstances and a lot has changed – for both clubs.

“It actually feels like a different club, everyone is pulling I the right direction, the fans are with us and long may that continue. You can see by the season ticket sales how positive the feeling is.

“They [the fans] are the best they’ve been in the time I’ve been here, even when we were finishing third and fourth. It’s a great place to play right now and, although some people might say it doesn’t make a difference, it is much easier to play in front of fans that are willing you to win and have that positivity.

“Our form at Easter Road has been a lot better and that’s a big part of it.”

Stevenson admitted being on the receiving end from Hibs own supporters was the most bitter pill to swallow at the time.

The 29-year-old said: “It wasn’t so much during games, it was when you were out doing your shopping. And it wouldn’t be what they said, it would be the look someone would give you.

“I can take it from opposing fans – that’s almost a boost – but when you get it from your own it hurts. It’s the worst feeling you can get, when your own fans are disappointed in you.

“But that’s made me stronger, more resilient and I’m sure the same people that thought negatively back then, well, hopefully, I’ve turned a few around.

“You never want to get relegated, and things might have changed without it. But we haven’t done anything yet.

“We want to be challenging in the top six, challenging towards the top end of the table. We are only two games into the season – so I’ll tell you at the end of it how much things have changed.”