Lewis Stevenson confessed to being overwhelmed by the level of support he received as he celebrated his testimonial match in front of more than 9,000 fans at Easter Road yesterday.
The 29-year-old left-back, whose 12 years of service with Hibs was being marked by yesterday’s encounter with Sunderland, was given a rousing ovation as he did a lap of honour accompanied by the fans’ anthem Sunshine on Leith following the 2-2 draw, his side having fought back from being two goals down against the recently relegated English Championship side.
Despite having been involved in the numerous ups and downs of cup-winning glories, relegation heartbreak and tense Edinburgh derbies, Stevenson revealed that he had been a bag of nerves on the eve of the game and it was a relief when the match actually arrived.
He said: “I was really nervous last night but I don’t know why. I was up thinking about it. It was just stupid things but I’m glad everything went smoothly and it was an amazing turnout, more than anyone could have imagined, especially if someone told me after we got relegated three years ago that I would have a testimonial and there would be more than 9,000 people there. It was unbelievable, and thanks to the Hibs fans who came, it made my day.
“I’m an awkward guy at the best of times but when you’ve got 9,000 people just focusing on you it is a bit strange. It is something I’ll hold deep in my memories for the rest of my life. There are not many people who get a testimonial and I’ll definitely remember it.
“It was an emotional day and a day I’ll never forget. On the football side, I thought we did well and competed well against a good team.
“I wanted it to be a normal game, not a typical testimonial with no pace. We both treated it like a normal game and I’m sure the gaffer wanted that. He likes testing himself against the best and so do we. He’s been great. I’m glad he let me start and be captain so it was fantastic from him.
“I couldn’t really read the programme because there were so many nice things said which is strange to read. But I’m sure when I get home tonight I’ll sit down and read them with a tear in my eye.
“There was no speech afterwards, I was on the physio’s bed icing my hip. I will thank them in some way. The boys have been great through this. We’ve got a great team spirit and it’s a great squad to be a part of.”
Stevenson had requested that half of the proceeds from his match will be donated to local good causes, and there will be a further donation to the Bradley Lowery Fund which was set up in the name of the six-year-old Sunderland supporter who lost his brave fight against cancer last Friday.
A minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in tribute to the youngster. Stevenson said of his preferred charities: “They are three charities that are really important to a lot of people.
“With the tragic death of Brad it was right to donate some money, especially with Sunderland fans coming up in good numbers.
“It was hard to celebrate a day like today when there is a lot of stuff going on in the world.”
Stevenson, who had been Hibs‘ captain for the day, led out his team alongside his two children, but Hibs fell behind when Sunderland scored on the stroke of half-time as Wahbi Khazri netted past Ofir Marciano from close range.
The visitors then extended their lead on 54 minutes when Dutch international Jeremain Lens slid the ball home.
However, Hibs rallied and Martin Boyle latched on to a John McGinn free-kick and buried the ball beyond Sunderland goalkeeper Mika on 68 minutes.
Parity was restored just six minutes later when new signing Simon Murray tapped home after David Gray’s inviting cross.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon had promised this would be no exhibition match and it erupted in the 74th minute, Cattermole going in high on Marvin Bartley who reacted furiously, prompting a melee involving many players. Referee Gavin Duncan settled for a word of warning.
Having made his entrance to rapturous applause, Stevenson took his leave with six minutes of the game remaining, again to a standing ovation not only from the fans but from his team-mates and opposition players alike.