At times, I thought about quitting game '“ Lewis Stevenson
Lewis Stevenson will proudly lead Hibs out early next month to face Sunderland in a testimonial match to mark his unstinting service to the Easter Road club, 362 matches in the green and white and still counting.
But, as he returned for the hard slog of pre-season training yet again, he revealed there have been plenty of times over the years when he was tempted to turn his back on football.
Today, though, he’s happy that with the help of family and friends he stuck at it, now the only Hibs player to have won both the Scottish and League Cups, while he also has a Championship winner’s medal to his name.
Thrust into the first team by Tony Mowbray in 2005, a callow, unknown 17-year-old facing Ayr United at Somerset Park, Stevenson admitted he could be regarded as something of an “accidental footballer”.
In a typically self-effacing interview, the left-back said: “When I was younger I never had my heart set on being a footballer. It kind of just happened, not something I ever imagined I’d be able to do.
“When I played my first game against Ayr I would never have imagined getting a testimonial – it never crossed my mind.
“I’ve never taken anything for granted and I never imagined I would be at a club like this for so long. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.”
There have been, however, moments of self-doubt, so much so that he would gladly have turned his back on the game only to be persuaded otherwise.
The 29-year-old said: “There have been times, to be honest, when I’ve thought about jacking football in.
“All you see is the stuff on the pitch but there is so much off the pitch that does take its toll on you. The mental aspect of football is a massive thing and I think that defeats as many people as ability or physicality.
“It was probably the worst a couple of years after I came into the team. There were just times when I wasn’t enjoying it.
“I didn’t think I was giving enough to the team, didn’t think I was doing myself justice. There are ups and downs in football. I’ve had my fair share.
“I don’t know what I would have done outside of football but there are times when I lost faith. I still don’t know what I’m going to do after football so there’s no point asking me what I would have done back then.”
If Stevenson had moments when he lost his self-belief then those closest to him have shown faith, as have successive managers, current boss Neil Lennon his ninth.
Asked who believed in him in those dark moments, he said: “Probably my family and my coaches. I maybe just doubt myself more than other people.
“It’s probably just a stress thing. Every time you get to the end of your contract people are asking you ‘what’s happening’ and your future is right up in the air.
“Probably the easiest option for me would have been to just turn my back on it all and try something else. But I stuck with it. Two cups and a league title later, I’m happy to have done so.
“The last few years are probably the best I’ve had as a player. When you are enjoying it, that’s when you play your best.”
One of the quieter characters in the dressing-room, Stevenson admitted he was already getting nervous at the thought of leading his team-mates on his big day on July 9, revealing he can be envious of his more cocky team-mates.
He said: “Even at boys’ club football I was never like that. I’ve got a wee boy now and I tell him to forget about being a defender, you get no thanks for it. Be a striker and get all the glory.
“You can only be who you can be. I would love to be the guy who is happy being the centre of attention . . . there again, maybe I wouldn’t.”
Each and every one of Stevenson’s managers have described him as a model pro, someone they can rely on just to get on with things and never rock the boat.
Stevenson is happy enough with that but added: “It would be nice for someone to say I’m a good player who does well for the team, rather than just a good guy.
“You need different types of characters in the changing-room. I’m never going to be the player who leads everyone. But I see myself as a pretty good follower.”
Hibs head into the new season without one of those “characters”, the larger-than-life Jason Cummings having left for Nottingham Forest in exchange for a seven-figure sum.
The sight of a team-mate departing is something Stevenson has experienced on numerous occasions, watching the likes of Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Steven Fletcher and plenty of others move on but, as much as it might seem the end of the earth to some fans at the time, as he pointed out, life goes on.
He said: “Jason will be a big miss, not just on the pitch but definitely off it. He’s a great character, and he’ll be missed. There’s not a better person in the changing-room that you’d want to go on and be successful in his career.
“The type of club Hibs is, if a big bid comes in we’re going to have to sell, that’s the nature of football.
“Obviously, people will worry about where the goals are going to come from but we’ve always managed to find another gem or a hidden talent that’s going to come through and step up.”
• Popular Italian family restaurant group Vittoria, which owns award-winning establishments throughout Edinburgh, are to sponsor Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial match against Sunderland and provide catering, featuring the “Lewy La Favorita Pizza”, for hospitality guests. Stevenson’s shirt number is 16. Hospitality packages can be bought by visiting eticketing.co.uk/HibernianFC or calling 0131 656 7077.