Plenty of managers have come and gone. So, too, players. There have been moments of ecstacy and many more of despair. But throughout it all there has been one constant at Easter Road, Lewis Stevenson.
Already the club’s longest serving player, Stevenson has committed himself to Hibs for another two years, clinching a contract which when it expires in the summer of 2015 should put the little utility man in line for a testimonial match.
But while he may seem part of the furniture, the 25-year-old insists that to this day he takes nothing for granted having been forced to prove himself time and again to a succession of managers. Having made his debut at 17 under Tony Mowbray, Stevenson has played under John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Colin Calderwood and, for the past 16 months, Pat Fenlon.
Yes, there have been times when he felt his days of pulling on a green-and-white shirt were coming to an end, but on each occasion the Kirkcaldy-born star has proved to be the great survivor, persuading each manager in turn of his value to their squad.
None more so than Fenlon who today described Stevenson as the sort of player any manager would love to have at his club. Admitting that in the modern era it was a rarity to come across a player with such long service. The Hibs boss insisted Stevenson had proved to be the model professional, someone who did his talking on the pitch.
The Irishman said: “Lewis comes in and does his work, you would not know he was there. When he goes onto the park, you definitely know he is around. He is what you want, his attitude and desire to train and play at the same level is what you want. There’s no managing him, he just gets on with it and does his work.”
Fenlon revealed he sees Stevenson being an important part of what he is trying build at Easter Road, an example for others to follow. He said: “As well has being a very good player, he has a fantastic attitude and application. You are also saying to the younger players, this is what we want.”
Stevenson, though, is far too modest to blow his own trumpet. Although he’s a veteran of more than 170 games for the club, he admits that when he first arrived as a 14-year-old, he harboured doubts as to whether he’d ever make it as a professional player. And even now he refuses to take anything for granted.
He said: “WWhen I first came to Hibs it was just the team from over the water that you’d watch on television. But now it is really the only thing I know, it’s become part of my life and I can’t think of playing anywhere else.
“To be honest, I don’t see any reason why I would want to move if the club wanted to keep me. I want to stay here as long as possible. Things can change in football, you never know what is going to happen, but i am happy to be here and delighted I’m staying another two years.
“I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve had to prove myself to every manager, in fact, I think every one of them has offered me a new contract but I have been well treated over the years.”
Stevenson has been at Hibs so long he’s seen some of those former team-mates return, Kevin Thomson being the latest following comebacks from Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor and Ivan Sproule, but in his role as the longest serving player he admits he finds himself explaining the club’s history to newcomers.
He said: “I’ve come across guys like Ian Murray and Derek and now Paul Hanlon and Leigh Griffiths who are lifelong Hibs fans but I’ve become a supporter myself. There’s nothing I want more than to see the club doing well. We go out and do work in the community and I came across people first met ten years ago, avid Hibs fans.
“The club means a lot to me and always will, not matter what happens.” Man of the match when Hibs won the CIS Insurance Cup under Collins in 2007, Stevenson admits he’d love to enjoy many more days such as that day at Hampden, the past few years having seen a downturn in the club’s fortunes although this season they are bidding to return to the SPL’s top six and have the opportunity of getting to the final of the Scottish Cup for the second year in succession.
He said: “We’ve finished in the top six a few times and were fourth one year but recently we’ve been battling down at the wrong end of the table. This is one of the best clubs in Scotland, we’ve got everything in place, the training ground, the stadium and the infrastructure. Now we have to kick on as a team.”
Making the top six this season would certainly be seen as a step in the right direction but, Stevenson conceded, Hibs’ hopes hang in the balance, not helped by a second refereeing blunder in recent weeks as Leigh Griffiths saw what would have been a stunning winner in last weekend’s derby disallowed as whistler Euan Norris and his assistant Raymond Whyte failed to spot the ball had crossed the line.
The gaffe means Hibs face a huge battle to make the top half of the table, a tough run-in to the split starting tonight with a trip to face a Motherwell side which has consistently finished in the European places in recent seasons.
Stevenson said: “What happened last weekend was disappointing, but we just have to get on with it. We’ve generally done well at Fir Park - including a 4-0 win there earlier in the season - but it will be a tough, tough game.
“They are in the position they are in [second] for a reason. We have to emulate what they’ve been doing and a win tonight would help take us into the top six.”