Why Lewis Stevenson has so much sympathy for Hibs fans when football returns

Lewis Stevenson looking forward to a return to trainingLewis Stevenson looking forward to a return to training
Lewis Stevenson looking forward to a return to training | Other 3rd Party
Easter Road star Stevenson knows supporters will pay the price as teams return to action but says it is the only way.

As a veteran of Easter Road building work, Lewis Stevenson knows what it is like to play in front of wide open expanses. Which is why the Hibs full-back is reserving his sympathies for the fans who he says will be hit the hardest by the behind closed doors policy being explored by the SPFL in a bid to kick-start the game.

The Capital club have already sold nearly 8,000 season tickets for the new term, but the government social distancing measures mean those punters could be locked out when the action gets underway.

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It will make for an unsettling atmosphere inside grounds, but Stevenson says that footballers can handle that if it means a return to playing. His bigger concern is how it affects supporters who live for match days.

“It is not so bad for us, we are still getting to play football,” said Stevenson. “It’s the fans I feel sorry for if they can’t get in to see the games. It is escapism for most fans and for some of them it is the highlight of their week. The fact they won’t get in is not good for them but the players should be able to cope with it.

“To be honest, if that is the only way to get back playing then we just have to be professional. We have played in strange situations before, even when Easter Road was getting done and that new stand was being built, it almost felt like there was no-one at the game when you were playing down that side anyway.

“So, although it will be strange, it is not really anything for the players to be bothered about. It’s our job to get on with it.”

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The prospect of playing a Capital derby Scottish Cup semi-final in an empty arena is less appealing, though, although, with the SFA maintaining the competition will be played to a conclusion despite the league campaigns being curtailed, he says he is glad that they will have such a big game to look forward to so soon after the resumption of competitive action.

“It will be strange to go back and then it might end up just being two or three games in and we could be facing the biggest game of the season, a Scottish Cup semi final against our biggest rivals. That will be strange. But Hearts will be in the same boat so we can’t complain too much.

“There could be a lot of different players because some were on loan, some are out of contract, so it will be a different game than if we had played before the lockdown. But it is better than the games we usually play when we get back, like friendlies, or a League Cup group game away up in Elgin, with all due respect.”

Now aged 32, he has worked hard to make sure he is able to hit the ground running when the squad regroups for pre-season training on June 10.

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“That’s the date we have been given for now and it will be good to be back even if it is in small groups. It is the ballwork I have missed more than anything. The fitness stuff you can keep ticking over on your own but I’ve been kicking a size 3 ball about with my son so I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I am reintroduced to the size 5s again!”.

Although they were instructed to have a couple of weeks’ of rest and recovery when the league season was officially called, the players have had fitness programmes to follow during the remainder of lockdown.

“To be honest, I have probably never worked harder in a so-called off-season, and the results are all linked up so there is no hiding place.

“We had a couple of weeks of downtime but we are now working hard to be ready for going back. After such a long lay-off we all know it is going to be a hard pre-season. It feels like we just did one in January and now we are heading back into another one. But we have to get on with it. Although, I’m not sure my 32 year old body can cope with that again!

“I remember going back last season and thinking ‘everyone is getting faster’ but I was just getting slower and they were catching up with me. Hopefully, I’m not much slower this time.”