BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
RYAN STEVENSON insists he made the shock decision to retire from football at the age of 32 because he was unwilling to “cheat” Raith Rovers, their fans and his teammates.
The former Hearts and Ipswich midfielder stunned the Kirkcaldy outfit last week by announcing he was hanging up his boots, despite only joining the club in January and still having three months left on his contract.
However, Stevenson concedes he had been weighing up his future for some time and, after acknowledging that the rigours of training were becoming hard to bear, he was adamant his career would not end with a “whimper”.
He told BBC Sportsound: “I’ve been thinking about [retirement] for a good little while. When you get the wrong side of 30 the legs start to go and, although you don’t like to admit it, you go into training and find it harder to chase young kids about!
“I still think I’m a young kid in my head so when you come up against that it gets a bit frustrating. I just decided now was the time to call it a day.
“I asked people and the general consensus is you keep playing until you can’t play anymore – but the last thing I wanted to do was go out with a whimper and get to a stage where people are saying ‘his legs have gone, he’s past it’.
“If I’d carried on until the end of the season I thought I would be cheating myself, cheating the club, cheating the fans and my teammates, most of all.”
While Stevenson is focusing on life after football, his former Raith teammates found themselves on the end of an astonishing verbal volley from their manager John Hughes this week following Saturday’s 4-0 defeat at Dumbarton.
The former Hibs and Falkirk boss described his struggling players – with one win in 19 matches – as “fragile”, “not great footballers” and suggested some were “hiding” amid a fraught relegation battle.
Stevenson is adamant there is quality in the Stark’s Park dressing room and reckons the Hughes has taken an almighty risk by publicly savaging his players.
“How would I take that? Not very well,” he continued. “The boys are going through a hard time right now, but they are good players.
“If you are a player in the dressing room and you are reading that, I know for a fact the boys wouldn’t be happy.
“There are good players at Raith Rovers and he [Hughes] is a smart man, maybe he has thought ‘I’ll just throw a grenade in and see how they react’.”
Stevenson’s senior career ended in farcical fashion, with his final appearance coming as a goalkeeper against his boyhood heroes Ayr United earlier this month after Rovers’ three custodians were all ruled out.
Despite turning in a respectable display in a 1-0 defeat, Stevenson insists the “ridiculous” scenario should never have happened.
“It wouldn’t happen in the Premiership, so why should it happen in the Championship?” he said. “The full situation was ridiculous and the game should have never gone ahead.
“The year before, Hearts had a game cancelled because the goalkeepers were ill. We had three genuinely bad injuries to our goalkeepers, and to ask an outfield player to go in goals is ridiculous.”