As he ran out at Somerset Park, a nervous teenager awe-struck by many of those he was now calling team-mates, Lewis Stevenson never thought for one second that ten years later he’d still be pulling on a Hibs shirt.
Today he’s not only the longest-serving current player at Easter Road, but has just clocked up his 250th game for the club, only the 60th man in Hibs’ 140-year history to do so.
It’s been a remarkable story for the Kirkcaldy-born player, who counts Alan Stubbs as his eighth manager, and it’s one that’s not likely to end just yet, with Stubbs set to offer the 27-year-old yet another new contract.
It’s an offer Stevenson would find difficult to refuse. “There’s nothing on the table yet, but the manager has spoken to me and I am sure it will be a no-brainer,” the left-back said. “I’ve loved every minute of my time here – well the majority of it – and I want to stick around a bit longer.”
Unsurprisingly for someone who is now in testimonial territory, Stevenson has enjoyed moments to remember and others he’d happily just forget, the highlight undoubtedly being Hibs’ CIS Insurance Cup triumph against Kilmarnock in 2007 when, at the age of just 19, he turned in a man-of-the-match performance despite team-mates Steven Fletcher and Abdessalam Benjelloun both scoring twice in that 5-1 victory.
And the low point? Well, that’s one Stevenson chooses not to recall and for obvious reasons.
However, as managers and players have come and gone over the past ten years, Stevenson has remained the one constant and if a little surprised at his longevity given the seemingly constant upheaval at Easter Road in recent years, he also reckons he “must be doing something right” to have survived when others have long since departed.
He said: “I’d never have thought that night against Ayr United I’d have gone on to play so many games at a club like Hibs. I don’t remember too much about the game [a League Cup tie] other than being a bit awestruck to be running out with guys like Gary Caldwell, Derek Riordan, Guillaume Beuzelin and Stephen Glass.
“I’d got an inkling I might be starting when Tony Mowbray had me travel with the squad, but even so it was a big surprise.”
And while he has seen plenty of change, Stevenson insists his approach to Friday night’s match against Rangers at Ibrox will remain exactly the same as his first. “It’s that old cliche but you treat every game as it comes,” he said. “I try to make the most of each of them because you never know what could be round the corner, an injury, a loss of form or another player coming in to compete for the jersey.
“There’s been plenty of players who have come in, played two or three games, and then drifted away for one reason or another. I have managed to stick around. The challenge is to make the most of every game, to do the best you possibly can and hopefully there’s another 250 appearances left in me.”
There have been times, of course, when Stevenson has appeared to be on the periphery of things, most notably six years ago when he played just 12 games in the entire season under then boss John Hughes.
Even so, he insists his head didn’t go down or the thought of seeking a move enter it. He said: “I didn’t play much under Yogi, but that was my own fault. He was giving me chances and I wasn’t taking them. I learned a lot from him. I enjoyed it, training was good and I improved. But when it came to games it didn’t quite work. I don’t know what it was – perhaps I was just trying that bit too hard.
“But it never crossed my mind to try to move. I always wanted to stick in and fight for my place.”
Such determination brought its rewards with Colin Calderwood, Pat Fenlon and Terry Butcher choosing a player who had earlier starred under Mowbray’s successor John Collins and then Mixu Paatelainen, while Stevenson has found his name being one of the first on current manager Stubbs’ teamsheet every week.
Given the turnover in managers and the inevitable changes in the playing personnel – for example the cuts which took place in the wake of last season’s relegation – Stevenson himself may feel a little surprised he’s still around, although many feel he’s arguably playing his best football on a consistent basis at present.
He said: “There’s been plenty of comings and goings both in terms of managers and players, so I can only think I must be doing something right.
“I’ve obviously gained a lot of experience. The manager has instilled greater self-belief in me and while I feel I’m ten times better a player than I was when I made my debut, hopefully I can keep improving.”
Stevenson’s milestone was marked by him being handed the captain’s armband for the Scottish Cup tie against Arbroath, a move which was much appreciated, even if Stubbs calling him aside cause a moment of worry.
He said: “You never know when the gaffer pulls you aside – I even wondered for a split-second if he was going to tell me I wasn’t playing. But it was a terrific gesture. It’s always a great honour to captain the team at any time, but on the occasion of my 250th game it was really appreciated.”
And Stevenson insisted he didn’t worry that Arbroath may wreck his big day as Kieran Stewart fired the Red Lichties into an early lead, Franck Dja Djedje hauling Hibs level just before half-time and Stubbs’ side going on to win comfortably as a Jason Cummings shot richoted off Liam Gordon and into the net, with Dylan McGeouch wrapping things up a few minutes later.
He said: “Arbroath played very well. They didn’t come and just try to sit in. They played two up-front and they were a real handful, but I knew if we kept going we’d create chances and start to take them.
“They’d got their goal early on – if it had been with a minute to go then that’s when you start to worry – but we had plenty of time and were confident with the quality we have that we’d win.”