Lewis Stevenson won’t be the only one feeling the way he does. “It is hard to put any of this into words but talking about it now, years later, it’s hard not to get emotional. I have goosebumps,” explained the player who has spent his career chasing success at Hibernian.
After ups and downs, he didn’t just live through one of the club’s seminal moments, he helped create it, which is why the events of 21 May, 2016, and the celebrations the following day, remain extremely evocative.
Today the club will screen that Scottish Cup final in full on their YouTube channel.
Stevenson is tempted to give his kids some time off homeschooling and sit down with them to relive it. If he does, it will be the first time he has ever watched the game back.
“I know I made some mistakes and I’ve never wanted to see them. I want to focus on the happy memories, although, to tell the truth, a lot of the day is a blur. But I will maybe watch it with the kids. I have seen some of the celebrations, though.”
They were curtailed by the “over exuberance” of fans as they swamped the pitch, flooded by emotion. There had been generations of hurt and a 114-year wait for the prized trophy and, although it denied the players their lap of honour, Stevenson says he can understand their feelings. “I was probably feeling the same way and, if I had been in the stands, I might have done the same thing.”
The tears, the agony of so many missed opportunities, weighed heavy on the minds of those who had endured them and, while strong performances against top-tier teams had galvanised colleagues, the humble left-back erred on the side of pessimism, careful not to build himself up, in case he was left picking up the pieces of thwarted ambition again. “I wasn’t confident. We had ‘Hibsed it’ before and it had been painful. So others were visualising what it would be like to lift the cup, I was visualising us losing because I thought that would make it easier to manage if it happened again.
“Then, when we went 2-1 down, I thought ‘here we go, at least we haven’t embarrassed ourselves this time’ but to get two late corners and score them both, I don’t know what the odds are of that happening.”
But Stevenson was in agony as the final minutes played out. “It was like an out-of-body experience. I have goosebumps thinking about it. Then, when the final whistle went, I think I was just shell-shocked.
“When everyone came on to the pitch and we were sent back to the changing rooms, I had to take five minutes to myself. It was all a bit too much. But I felt like a huge burden had been taken off my shoulders.
“As soon as I joined Hibs everyone was talking about the cup. I didn’t understand why it was so important back then, but it does weigh on you and we had failed so often. I thought we were never going to win it or if we did it would be the season after I left, knowing my luck. But I think the hell we had gone through – and it had been some of the lowest times of my life – made the emotion that day something that can never really be explained.
“Because of the history and the weight of expectation and losing the League Cup final and the play-offs, and what we had suffered in other Scottish Cup finals, I think there will be guys who win the Champions League who won’t feel what we felt that day. It was that special.”
Which is why there was uncontained jubilation from the usually introverted Stevenson and his fellow long-suffering team-mate, Paul Hanlon, pictured, as David Gray hoisted the silverware aloft.
A pair who tend to stick to the background, they had to be forced front and centre that day. “We were actually at the back, waiting to go up for the trophy,” explains Stevenson, and it was Taff [coach Andy Holden], who put his arms round us and pushed us to the front. He said after everything we had been there, we deserved it. I thought it was an odd comment at the time because we would all get out chance to lift the cup but when I look back at pictures now, and we are there when Dave lifts the cup, I’m so thankful. Although, I feel bad because I have never told Taff that.”
“The whole thing was just so hard to take in. Even on the bus the next day, I didn’t take too many pictures because I was trying to take it all in. It was very different from the bus tour when we won the CIS Cup. There were so many people. It is hard to explain how it feels to see so many people looking at you like they love you because you don’t feel you are worthy of that adulation. But dads and grandads went their whole lives without seeing Hibs win the Scottish Cup. It wasn’t just about football, not for the fans or for us, it was personal too. I’m just thankful we finally did it. I can retire happily now. Just not yet. Although, it would be nice to win it one more time. Why not?”
n Hibernian’s REWIND: Time For Heroes event is offering supporters the chance to relive that momentous day at Hampden in full.
Virtual tickets come with an exclusive digital photobook and a unique mobile phone wallpaper, there’s a half-time Happy Hibee draw with a cash prize and a raffle for a match programme signed by goalscorers Anthony Stokes and David Gray.
Their virtual kiosk also allows fans to make a direct donation to the work of the Hibernian Community Foundation. For more information see www.hibernianfc.co.uk
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