Celebrated winger with Hibernian

Born: December 25, 1942;

Died: May 17, 2017

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ERIC Stevenson, who has died of stomach cancer aged 74, was former Hibernian winger and, by common consent, one of the finest dribblers and most entertaining wingers in the history of Scottish football.

In terms of ability he was right up there with contemporaries such as Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Henderson, Willie Johnston, Charlie Cook and Eddie Gray – but unlike them, he never won a Scotland cap. You will find older Hibs' supporters who remain adamant, it was the anti-Hibs, West Coast bias of the time, which denied Stevenson the status his talent merited. There was a single Scottish League XI cap, against the Irish League, in a 5-2 Ibrox win in 1969, but, there are less talented wingers, who played for more influential clubs and who have more international honours.

Maybe it is the fact he was known early in his career as Eric the Rebel which told against Stevenson. As a raw 16-year-old, he was signed by Hearts, but, legend has it, the Gorgie club had pulled a fast one, getting his signature on a full professional contract, which he was too young to sign. The club was fined £150, with manager Tommy Walker copping an additional £75 fine. Stevenson was then left free to join Hibs, the club he had supported all his life. He rejected a counter offer from Manchester United to sign for his heroes.

He went on to play 390 games for the Easter Road club over 11 seasons, scoring 79 goals along the way and playing impressively in some of the great Hibernian European nights. He also took his revenge on Hearts, for the problems they caused him at the start of his career, never more so than when he and Jimmy O'Rourke each bagged a brace in a 4-0 Tynecastle win in September, 1965, or his contribution to a 9-1, some say 11-1 thrashing of Hearts in a five-a-side tournament at Murrayfield Ice Rink.

He eventually fell foul of Eddie Turnbull's determination to cleanse the Hibs squad of those, such as Stevenson, who lacked the manager's all-consuming work ethic and left to run down his playing career with a season at Ayr United, where Eric the Rebel resurfaced.

On 9 December, 1972, he absented himself from the United team which would beat Dumbarton 2-0 that afternoon. Stevenson was away supporting Hibs in the League Cup final at Hampden, in which “Turnbull's Tornadoes” beat Jock Stein's Celtic team 2-1. United boss Ally MacLeod – a former Hibs' team mate - fined Stevenson two-weeks' wages, which the player gladly paid, reportedly saying: “I'd have paid four weeks' wages, it would still have been worth it”.

Stevenson hung up his boots at the end of that season, to concentrate on the business he had established in Dalkeith, where he lived up until his death.

He was actually born in Eastfield, a mining village near Harthill. He never knew his biological father and the circumstances of his birth caused problems in the wider family, to the extent that he was raised, initially by his grand-mother, then by his Aunt Nancy and Uncle Tom, who was known as “Elk” in Bonnyrigg.

It was “Elk” who encouraged Eric's life-long love affair with Hibs, by taking him to watch the Famous Five as a boy, with the Bonnyrigg Hibs Supporters Club which he had co-founded.

On leaving school, Stevenson had briefly worked down the Lady Victoria pit, and he himself admitted he perhaps imbibed too readily of the hard-drinking mining culture in which he was brought up. Jock Wallace, another from an East Lothian mining background, once, in his own familiar way told Stevenson to his face: “Son, wi your talent, ye need a richt guid kick up the erse, you've goat too much nonsense in yer heid.” Big Jock was not alone in mourning the fact that Stevenson did not fully exploit the God-given football talent he possessed.

He wrote a well received memoir on his footballing days: Eric Stevenson – Hibs Through and Through which was published last year and he was inducted into the Hibernian Hall of Fame in 2012.

Basically, Eric Stevenson was an entertainer, one of the best, and a fully paid-up member of the harum-scarum school of gifted but wayward Scottish wingers. Definitely a Hibs legend, he will be remembered for charging down the Easter Road slope past outwitted defenders.

He married twice, his first marriage ended in divorce, and he is survived by second wife Agnes, daughters Sonya and Nadia and grandchildren Owen, Aidan, Connor, Lucy and Logan.

MATT VALLANCE