Hibernian’s Scottish Cup-winning left-back looked forward to the team beginning their defence of the trophy but was unsure of the protocol. “I don’t know,” said Lewis Stevenson. “Will we have to walk on to the pitch with it on Saturday?”
You can understand his confusion. This is Hibs we’re talking about. The cursed club which could never win it, until last May, when 114 years of hurt, frustration, taunts and borderline madness finally came to an end.
But maybe the player and his team-mates are keen to keep hold of the trophy until the last possible moment. Do they want to win it again? “The league is the most important thing this season but we’ve got a good enough squad so I don’t see any reason why we can’t,” added Stevenson.
In case you think this quiet, reflective footballer has become all bullish; he hasn’t. Hibs return to the competition with a romantic tie against Bonnyrigg Rose. “If we perform on the day the way we can we should win,” he said. Then with a smile he added: “But it’s never easy being at Hibs.”
Stevenson was speaking at the end of the tour – named Persevered, after the Leith motto – which has taken the trophy round schools, juvenile football clubs and workplaces. Originally set at 114 venues, it was quickly expanded to 250. Cynics will wonder if Hibs have been knocking on hermits’ front doors and removing boulders from cave entrances, in case there were some folk they had missed in their determination to spread the cup joy. But, after smashing a hoodoo like that, you can hardly blame them.
How many times had Stevenson watched the final back? “Honestly, I never have.” Just in case Hibs end up losing? “Something like that! I think I’d still feel the pressure, even though we eventually did win. Plus, I hate watching myself on TV as I’m always hyper-critical. My wee boy Louie, who’s coming up for five, loves watching it. I’m sure David [Gray, captain and scorer of the winner] has watched it 100 times over, as would I if I’d headed that goal.”
The only player in Hibee history to have lifted both domestic cups – the tenth anniversary of the League Cup triumph will be in March – Stevenson wondered whether it will feel any different to play in the Scottish Cup as a winner. “There might be less pressure on us. Scottish Cup ties before were always the games where we felt the most pressure and a bit of that’s kind of gone since we won it. But I know what the manager [Neil Lennon] is like. He wants us to win every game and he’ll want to win the cup himself with Hibs so, aye, there will still be pressure.”
No club outwith the Old Firm has retained the cup since Aberdeen in 1984 and Stevenson – just to qualify his earlier remark about Hibs having the capability to win it again – reckons the team will re-enter the tournament with a price of their heads. “It was hard enough to win it last year and it will probably be even harder to do it again because others teams will want to take our scalp because we’re the holders. When Hearts were holders [in the 2012-13 competition] we put them out at the first time of asking. Teams will rise to the occasion when they play us.”
That 1-0 victory was revenge for Hibs, but only partially. Hearts had hammered Hibs in the previous season’s final to lift the cup, a result which still makes Stevenson wince. “I don’t think there was a moment last season when I thought we might win the cup until the referee blew the final whistle. I’m not supposed to talk like that because of all the positive thinking stuff but I didn’t want to think about winning it because I’d done that before and I knew how bad it felt when we didn’t win it. I really don’t want to mention that occasion [Hibernian 1, Hearts 5] – I hate talking about it. But our squad when we finally did it was far stronger than the one we had then.”
So, Bonnyrigg Rose – how will that pan out? “They’re a good team playing at a good level,” added Stevenson. “I saw a few Junior games growing up in Fife and it’s a decent standard. They’ve got players I recognise from my younger days and Frazer McLaren was in the Scotland youth teams with me. Bonnyrigg will want to enjoy the tie but they’ll have a point to prove as well.”
As Stevenson says, serious head, the priority is getting out of the Championship for these green-and-white jinx-busters. But a defeat in the cup could be contagious, spreading to the league. Best to give the competition another go. It could be a “nice distraction”. The cup, after all, is the cup.
Stevenson has loved being on the Persevered charabanc, his own stop-offs including Duloch Primary School in Dunfermline and Inverkeithing’s Hillfield Swifts FC. “I remember what school assemblies were like, being dragged along to some boring talk – but the kids we met were totally engaged and asked great questions. At our age when you see a football trophy it’s just a football trophy but for a kid it can look amazing.
“Actually, for Hibs fans, grown-up ones, the Scottish Cup has been like that these past eight months!”