Lewis Stevenson – One club man and Hibs legend

Last week it was finally announced that Lewis Stevenson would receive a testimonial year. The first event will be a dinner at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange on September 3rd hosted by Grant Stott and headlined by The Proclaimers. The events will likely conclude about 12 months from now with a testimonial match at Easter Road.

I’m delighted that this is official. I’m struggling to think of anyone in our 141-year history more deserving than Lewis Stevenson. He really is everything I want to see in a Hibs player and over the last 11 years has experienced the very best and worst of playing for the club.

Lewis made his debut in September 2005 away at Ayr United in the League Cup. 18 months later, in only his 16th professional game, he was named Man of the Match in Hibs 2007 League cup final win over Kilmarnock. 18 years old and he was a League Cup winner.

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The next 3/4 years of Lewis’s career didn’t quite reach those highs. He struggled to make a position his own and was often on the receiving end of abuse from the stands. While he isn’t the most talented player to play for Hibs he never once deserved the abuse he got. I’m confident in saying Lewis would run through a brick wall for Hibs, he always gives everything he possibly can for the shirt and can more than hold his own in terms of quality. There is a reason he has survived 9 different Hibs managers. He is an absolute class act on and off the pitch. A perfect example to the youngsters coming through.

For the last 5 years, Lewis has often been the first name on the teamsheet, whether it be at left-back or in midfield. He was one of the few who didn’t let himself down during our relegation season in 2013-14 and I’m delighted he stuck with the club. Since then, under the management of Alan Stubbs, he has gone from strength to strength becoming a very solid left-back and proving the boo-boys wrong. He played 53 of our 54 matches last season, missing only 1 because of suspension, and became the first Hibs player in history to win both the League Cup and Scottish Cup. Upon learning this fact in the post game interviews Lewis said ”That is mental. Legends at this club, far better players than me, have tried to get their hands on that trophy. I’m just delighted for the manager and the players and I’m delighted to end the season like this”

Well, Lewis, you are absolutely one of those legends now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy for someone as I was for you when you lifted that trophy. You deserved that moment more than anyone involved with Hibs. You have taken horrible abuse from Hibs ”fans” at times, been surrounded by some utter dross on the field and you had to suffer Terry Butcher as Hibs manager. Despite all of that you never once hid, never once stopped running or trying and never moaned in the papers. The only good Hibs teams you have played in won trophies and you were fucking brilliant in both finals. You are a credit to the club and if it were up to me you would have a contract for life.

Scottish Cup Final 21st May 2016

 

Alan Stubbs leaves Hibernian to join Rotherham United

I’m not really sure how to feel about this news. Alan Stubbs gave me, without a doubt, the best day of my Hibs-supporting life. He also oversaw some of the worst.

When Hibs sacked Terry Butcher after our relegation at the end of the 2013/14 season we absolutely had to get the next appointment right or we faced a very grim future. I was excited at the possibility of Alan Stubbs when the rumours started. He was very much in the mold of Tony Mowbray who had so much success as Hibs manager 10 years previously. Big, strong character who captained a huge club for years and coached at big clubs before taking the first steps into management with Hibs. Mowbray though never faced anything like the challenge Alan Stubbs would in his first few months at Easter Road.

I’m being kind when I say Hibs were in complete shambles the day Alan Stubbs walked through the door for the first time. After the out of contract players left the club there was only 12 remaining who had played a first team game and not one of them was a goalkeeper. I’m sure I read somewhere that, had he known the mess we were in on and off the park Alan Stubbs would never have accepted the job. The only positive is that it really couldn’t get much worse that it was.

After a poor start to the season, 4 losses from the first 6 league games, we beat much fancied Rangers 3-1 away and went on an incredible run of 1 defeat in 6 months. The signings Alan Stubbs and George Craig, Hibs new head of football operations, made worked wonders and we looked like a very good side. We finished the season with 5 straight wins and claimed a very strong 2nd place. A 2-1 aggregate defeat to Rangers in the playoff semi-final was a hard one to take but I think every Hibs fan was satisfied with the clear progress we had made in Alan Stubbs first season and was confident we would be promoted in the 2015/16 season.

The problem is, we are still saying exactly the same things 12 months later. Despite having a clearly better squad than the season before we still failed to win automatic promotion, still failed in the playoff semi-finals and even ended on exactly the same points total as in 2014/15. Over 2 years it is difficult to look at Alan Stubbs league performance with Hibs as anything other than a failure. I’m not sure it was bad enough for me to want him to leave or be happy that he has but it wasn’t good enough for me to desperately want him to stay or make me think that there wasn’t a better manager out there.

With that being said, his cup performances at Hibs have been excellent. 1 kick away from both semi-finals in his first season and 2 finals in his second season, one of them being a Scottish cup win. That is ultimately what he will be remembered for by most Hibs fans and rightfully so. He achieved what 29 before him couldn’t. He broke the hoodoo and I will always thank him for it but maybe it was the right time for him to move. For the first time in years, a new manager at Hibs will inherit a very good squad and a positive fan base, there will be plenty of suitors for the job.

The obvious names have already been branded about, Stuart McCall being the main one. He has past experience working with Leeann Dempster, our CEO, at Motherwell where they had a lot of success. I’m not really sure I want him at Hibs, though. He hasn’t always been positive about the club and it is well known he is a big Rangers fan who played for them for many years. This doesn’t really bother me much but it will bother a lot of our supporters as it did with Alex Miller and Bobby Williamson in the past.

I would prefer someone from down south, either in the Stubbs/Mowbray mold or an experienced manager who knows how to get promoted, Steve Cotterill for example. Guys like McCall, Jimmy Calderwood, Jackie McNamara, Yogi Hughes, and John Collins are all without jobs for a reason and I don’t want us scraping the bottom of the barrel like we have in the past. I trust Leeann Dempster to get it right and whoever she chooses will get my full support from their first day till their last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on an unforgettable season supporting Hibs

Whatever happens in the future, if we go on to dominate world football or we are reduced to stories and stats like many clubs in the last few years, no one who followed Hibernian during the 2015/16 season will ever forget it.

The season ended on the highest possible high but it wasn’t all plain sailing. A bad start for the second season in a row meant we were chasing our promotion rivals instead of setting the pace. Alan Stubbs has achieved amazing things in the cup competitions but our league results under him have left a lot to be desired at times. I don’t blame our defeat at Dumbarton on the first day solely on Stubbs though, the Scott Allan transfer saga probably made our dressing room a very tense place to be in the early season. We ended up getting a brilliant deal in return for Allan, probably one of the best we have ever negotiated, but our league season never fully recovered from losing 2 of our first 3.

We did draw level with Rangers just before Christmas but our defeat a week later, against the Ibrox side, put us behind again and our league form during February and March compounded things, eventually costing us 2nd place. To be quite honest, Alan Stubbs seriously needs to improve our league form if he wants to keep his job for all of next season. Hibs being in this league for any more than 3 years is unthinkable.

I think we will be favourites for automatic promotion but it is not guaranteed. St Mirren will not be as bad as they were this year, Falkirk will again provide tough competition and Dundee United being relegated will make it very interesting for the neutral. First of all, we need to stop playing to the level of our opposition. Too often have we struggled against the poor sides. Dumbarton, Alloa, Morton, Livingston and Raith Rovers all took points from us this season and with all due respect to those clubs, Hibs should be beating them. On the other hand, some of our best performances have come against the so-called better teams. Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United, and St Johnstone all fell to us this season across the 3 competitions.

We very much struggled at times to kill games and it regularly came back to bite us. Long term injuries to Farid El Alagui and Danny Carmichael didn’t help but we still had enough quality on the park to be finishing games in a much more comfortable fashion. Even though he scored 25 goals Jason Cummings often needed 3/4 chances before he put one away and our lack of goals from the midfield meant we relied on him far too much. A goalscoring midfielder and a left winger have to be high on Alan Stubbs’ list in the summer and assuming Jason Cummings doesn’t sign a new contract, a striker who can replace his tally.

Despite a less than stellar league showing, the season was definitely more good than bad. Reaching both cup finals was an incredible achievement, the first time in our history we have got to both the league and Scottish cup finals in the one season. The victories over Aberdeen, Dundee United and the semi-final win at Tynecastle against St Johnstone on our way to the league cup final were all brilliant victories and great moments supporting Hibs. The late defeat in the final to Ross County was a horrible moment but I will fondly remember the rest of the league cup campaign.

The Scottish cup win was incredible and very much worth all the misery that preceded it. We probably had to win that game or we would have faced another summer of uncertainty and turnover. The win will be a big boost to our promotion push next season. The financial benefits from season ticket sales, merchandise, and our fan ownership scheme, HSL, will be huge and enable us to keep the majority of this season’s squad intact.

Even with the Scottish cup win I wouldn’t mind us sacrificing both cups next season, especially if we make any headway in Europe. Playing 54 games in all competitions this season was far too much for our squad to deal with. Only a handful of clubs in the world have squads capable of successfully competing on all fronts and none of them play in the Scottish championship.

I probably picked the right season to attend every home game for the first time. I’d always missed 1 here or there for whatever reason but I didn’t miss a minute at Easter Road in 2015/16 it was well worth it in the end. Dominique Malongas goal against Aberdeen, hammering Dundee United, the 2 league victories over Rangers and of course, beating Hearts in the Scottish cup are just some of the great moments at home this season. 2 defeats in 25 home games is pretty good going.

I would absolutely have taken a Scottish cup win and staying down at the start of the season, especially beating Rangers 3-2 in the final with a last-minute goal. We really do have to get ourselves promoted next season, though, as this club cannot fulfil its potential without being in the top tier.

 

 

 

 

Hibernian FC – 2016 Scottish cup winners

I don’t think I was ever sure I would see it. The odds were good, I have my whole life ahead of me, Hibs have been to 4 Scottish cup finals in 15 years, surely we would win one at some stage, I still wasn’t sure, though.

I was incredibly nervous Saturday morning, more at the thought of losing to Rangers, a club I absolutely despise, than anything else. If we were going to get beat I’d rather it was any other club (except those maroon mutants from across the city). I didn’t eat anything when I got up, it would have probably just made me feel worse. The journey there was pretty standard, my little sister listening to music while dad and me talked about football. The truth is we were both feeling hope more than expectation. We’ll support Hibs till we’re old and grey (he already is) but we have seen so many bad Hampden results and cup final losses that an ”expect little and never be disappointed” mentality has been adopted.

When we arrived at the home of our friends Dennis and Rosie near Hampden we were greeted with their surprise at us not being more hyped and excited for the game. The truth is I haven’t felt good before a big game in many years. Social media has a lot to answer for there probably. I more than make-up for it afterwards if we win.

Walking from their house to Hampden is always a bit special, a sea of Hibs fans in every direction all slowly moving towards the stadium. We left plenty of time to spare because the police were searching all Hibs fans at our semi-final vs Dundee United a month previous, they obviously weren’t doing it this time since the huns managed to sneak bloody great smoke bombs and flares in. They may look great on the TV but I’ve been in the middle of them, they are dangerous, especially to old people and those with asthma and they are banned for a very good reason.

We got inside just before the Hibs players ran out to warm up. I was feeling pretty shitty at this point, I still hadn’t eaten anything and nerves were killing me. I was believing a little more, especially watching the players warm up, they looked sharp and ready, especially Anthony Stokes. How right I was.

If we weren’t going to win it today I wanted a goal to celebrate, a Hibs Scottish cup final goal to really celebrate is something I’ve never had. The previous Scottish cup finals I have attended have finished 3-0, 3-0 and 5-1 to the opposition and I’m sure my Hearts supporting best mate will take great pleasure in me admitting I didn’t even celebrate James McPakes goal in 2012 to make it 2-1 just before the break. Only Hibs goal I’ve seen that I didn’t celebrate because I knew it didn’t matter, we were a desperate 2nd best that day to the point that our players and fans alike just wanted the world to open up and devour them.

Within 3 minutes Anthony Stokes provided that goal, a brilliant goal after a good advantage from the ref. Queue bedlam in the Hibs end. I could hardly believe it. I was in the end seat of the row and quickly made my way onto the stairs jumping up and down like an idiot, hugging strangers and family members and moaning at the ref to blow the full-time whistle. Unfortunately, our joy lasted a little over 20 minutes as Kenny Miller levelled it with a header. I wasn’t really bothered about this, we had started very well and Hibs losing a soft goal was nothing new. 1-1 at HT, I’ll take it I thought, we can beat these with a bit of luck.

The second half started much the same as the first ended, little between the teams and it took a great strike from Andy Halliday to put the huns ahead. Not much you can do about goals like that, even thugs like Halliday can score the odd cracker. It goes without saying I was pretty deflated at this stage, the thought of losing another cup final, another big chance to get the monkey off our backs was sickening. Just make it 3 so we can get away early.

Corner Hibs, Stokes header near post, goal. 2-2. I hardly celebrated this one because I could hardly believe it, this wasn’t in the script. I immediately looked to the linesman, as I do with any and every Hibs goal before making a fool of myself and he just stood there (normal practice after a goal is for the lino to run back to the halfway line) and I’m thinking ”don’t you dare disallow this goal you bastard”. Slowly but surely I realized the ref hadn’t blown his whistle, everyone around me was going mental except my dad who was also seeing the linesman I think. I quickly asked him if it was given, I don’t think he heard me, he just looked at the park and started celebrating. I joined him pretty quickly after that. Without a doubt the longest 15/20 seconds of my Hibs-supporting life, I’d have enjoyed that goal a lot more if the officials knew the bloody rules. The cynic in me is convinced they were looking for any possible reason to disallow it.

So it’s 2-2, the board goes up signaling 4 added minutes, all I’m thinking is don’t concede, please don’t concede, Hibs fans everywhere will get slaughtered for this if you concede now. What happened next will never be forgotten. Not by me, not by anyone lucky enough to be inside Hampden on Saturday the 21st of May 2016. I will tell my grandkids about the last few minutes of this game. Somehow David Gray wins a throw in and takes it quickly to Fraser Fyvie who spreads it wide to Stokesy, on a hat-trick. He makes a fool of Tavernier for the umpteenth time that afternoon and forces a good save from the huns ‘keeper who puts it out for a corner. Good, if Hibs have the ball they can’t concede. Not for a second did I consider we might score from it.

Liam Henderson, only at Hibs because of the Scott Allan transfer saga caused by Rangers, swings it in and David Gray, our captain, and leader, climbs high and ensures his life will never be the same again. My reaction? Impossible to describe really. Something like Boromir after he gets hit in the chest with an arrow in Lord of the Rings. Everything stopped and I was just hit with this incredible feeling. I instantly burst into tears. We did it. In the 92nd minute of the 2016 Scottish cup final, Hibs scored to make it 3-2. Unbelievable. I couldn’t have written it better. After 114 years, we had finally done it. All those good times, all those bad times and everything in between had built to this moment and it was absolutely perfect. I will need to marry one fantastic girl to top that. Thank you Hibs, thank you, Leeann Dempster, thank you, Alan Stubbs, thank you, David Gray, and thank you, Dad.

I’d rather not talk too much about the pitch invasion and scenes that followed, it has been done to death already (mainly by news outlets too scared to speak negatively of Rangers) and I spent most of it hugging my friends and family who have suffered so much with me in my 16 years supporting Hibs, I will say this however. It was a very poor judgement by the police and stewards to not think this was a possibility. The greatest moment in twenty-five thousand people’s lives? Didn’t you think just a few of them might go fucking mental? Hibs are likely going to get hammered by the SFA for this although I have absolute and complete faith in Rod Petrie and Leeann Dempster to defend our cause and not let Rangers away with their fans equally disgraceful actions. I hope anyone who was involved in a physical altercation with police, stewards, Rangers players, staff or fans are banned for life. Those people let me down, they let their friends and families down, they let themselves down and worst of all, they let the club and players down. Not good enough.

With that being said, what am I going to remember in 20 years? Hibs getting a fine for the actions of a few drunk idiots or David Gray heading home the most incredible goal I will ever see? No debate, it is David Gray every time. Unforgettable.

After the trouble had cleared up and everyone was back in their seat it was time for the Hibs players to be presented with the cup and the celebrations to really begin. I said I would never be able to describe the feeling I had if David Gray lifted that cup and I was right. I will forget that moment. When Hibs went up to lift the Scottish cup I was there. The version of Sunshine of Leith that followed is without a doubt the most special celebratory moment in Hibs history. My dad standing on his seat bellowing out the words in unison with thousands of other lifelong Hibs fans is an image I’ll never forget.

I still don’t believe it happened, even after writing all of that.

Few special mentions at the end of this.

Lewis Stevenson, my hero. I have suffered home and away with you since your debut 11 years ago. I have always defended you, I have always believed in you, you are without any doubt my favourite Hibs player ever and nobody deserves this more than you. The only Hibs player in our 140-year history to win the League cup and the Scottish cup, the best 2 days of my life. Thank you. You are immortal.

My dad. When you first started taking me to Easter Road I assumed I was being punished for something, I was 4 years old and bloody hated the noise. You told me to make some noise of my own and I never looked back. We have really suffered some horrible things together. From Hibs fans pissing in bins at QoTS in the Scottish cup (actually hilarious), losing a 4 goal lead at Motherwell, losing a cup final to bloody Livingston, employing Colin Calderwood and Terry Butcher, signing James Collins for 200k, getting hammered by the yams at Hampden to finally winning the damn thing on Saturday. Quite a journey. Thank you so much.

Lastly, to all the friends and family who have been to games with me over the last 16 years, especially Ruth, Auntie Gillian, Kenny and Harry.

 

Now we’ve got to defend it next year.

 

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The 2016 Scottish cup final

It’s weird, normally in the build up to games like this I’m so nervous, so excited, so emotional weeks in advance. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick, listening to Sunshine on Leith will get the tears flowing, watching great Hibs moments on youtube will get me believing.

None of that this time. I suppose I have been preoccupied with our crazy ending to the season, so many important playoff games coming one after another every 3 days, it was madness and it kept me distracted because in all honesty promotion is more important. After getting past Raith I had a feeling we might be able to do it, Falkirk are a decent side but I felt we could take them. It was always going to be close and the first leg was exactly that, a very poor refereeing decision cost us the chance to make it 3-1 and take a very healthy lead to the Falkirk stadium, sadly it wasn’t to be and it ended in a Desmond, 2-2.

So onto Friday and a trip to Falkirk awaited. We set off, my dad along with our friends Kenny and Harry, who have been through so much with us over the years supporting Hibs. Our seats were beyond awful but it didn’t matter, we were there and that is all I cared about, I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Row D is better than the TV after all. We started so poorly and deserved to be 1-0 down, thankfully we got a break and Keatings level it from the spot before heading us 2-1(4-3 on agg) up at the break, Falkirk fans silenced and the Hibs support going mental, amazing moments.

Whatever Alan Stubbs said at HT seemed to work, we came out sharp and were much the better team until Falkirk equalized with 10 minutes to go, 2-2 on the night, 4-4 overall. Cummings hit the bar before probably the most horrible moment I have ever had supporting Hibs, a 93rd-minute winner from the home side. I couldn’t stand it, I quickly left my seat and said I’d catch my dad at the door, I absolutely hate watching other teams celebrate against us and that was too much for me. I just broke down when I got inside the stand, full on crying my eyes out, I was absolutely crushed. Everything had built up to this game, 2 years of visiting shitholes like Dumbarton and Alloa, freezing cold rain soaking me to my skin at Central park, Cowdenbeath, so many highs and lows and it was all gone just like that.

Eventually, my dad found me and hugged me and we made our way back to the car. Neither of us said a word, there was nothing to say. We got back to the car and found Kenny and Harry looking equally glum so we all just piled in and tried to forget about. Nobody said a word on that journey home. I dried my eyes with my scarf thought to myself ”I’d rather be a losing Hibby than a winning fan of anyone else”. I then put the window down and hung my scarf out of it before closing the window on the end of it and letting it blow alongside the car as we travelled back. My way of saying ”it will take more than this to stop me supporting Hibs”.

I felt like shit when I got home that night, I locked the door, went to my room and just sat on the floor crying for about half an hour. 20 years old and I still greet over my team losing, I probably always will. It was all for nothing…

Which brings me to the 2016 Scottish cup final, the last chance this season to make all the misery worth it – Hibernian vs Rangers at Hampden. Now I am starting to think about it, now I’m nervous, now I’m excited, now I’m an emotional wreck. What can I really say about Hibs winning the Scottish cup that hasn’t already been said? No one alive has seen it happen, 114 years since we last won the bloody thing. People have been born, supported Hibs home and away like me and they have died without seeing us win it. Alan Stubbs is the 30th manager to try and win it, 29 before him failed, some of our greatest ever heroes, Pat Stanton, Eddie Turnbull, Franck Sauzee didn’t manage to win it. Guys who built Hibs, guys who bleed Hibs could never get their hands on it.

I can’t put into words what it would mean to see us win it. Nobody can, there are no words to describe the scenes, the parties, the celebrations that it would trigger. They’d write songs about it but those songs could never come close to capturing how I’ll feel if David Gray gets his hands on it at 5 o’clock on Saturday. It truly is the holy grail as far as Hibs are concerned.

And if we lose again there is always next year eh?