Holwell Sports: Michael Stevenson talks retirement and 15 years at Welby Road

Guard of honour for Michael Stevenson at the beginning of his final game EMN-190522-144710002
Guard of honour for Michael Stevenson at the beginning of his final game EMN-190522-144710002
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Michael Stevenson may want to lock himself away in July when football’s ludicrously brief close season ends and pre-season grinds into life.

The recently-retired midfielder is expecting a difficult month as he faces up to his first season without football in more than 25 years.

Michael Stevenson captained his side many times EMN-190522-144756002

Michael Stevenson captained his side many times EMN-190522-144756002

Last weekend Holwell Sports drew a fitting veil on his career, marking his farewell to the game with a surprise 15-year long service award at their annual end-of-season presentation evening.

Picking up the Players’ Player of the Year award, too, was the icing on the cake, and also showed the level Stevenson is still capable of despite passing his mid-30s.

“It had been on my mind for the last couple of years, but it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly,” he said.

“My wife and I are expecting our first child in November and coupled that with the thought of playing at 36 or 37, the time was right.

Michael Stevenson is congratulated by his long-time team-mate and friend Ian Bitmead EMN-190522-144825002

Michael Stevenson is congratulated by his long-time team-mate and friend Ian Bitmead EMN-190522-144825002

“I know I’m going to miss it like mad, and I know when pre-season starts I will be desperate to get back.

“All I’ve done on Saturdays for the last 20-odd years is play football.”

Stevenson joined Holwell as a 16-year-old, fresh out of youth football with Mowbray Rangers and after a short spell with Melton Town.

After showing plenty of potential as a promising teenager during three seasons at Welby Road he was snapped up by higher league Bourne Town and then Deeping Rangers.

He then swapped the United Counties League Premier for the Unibond League North, spending a season-and-a-half with Stamford Town.

But while enjoying life at the highest level of his career, life began to get in the way.

And when Simon Daws got in touch, Stevenson decided the time was right for a return to Holwell in 2011.

“At that point work was becoming more prominent in my life and the travelling in that league was ridiculous and it all got too much,” he explained.

“I always wanted to finish my career at Holwell being the local club and Simon gave me a call and asked me to come back.”

Whether he expected his swansong to last eight years, the spirit still remains willing.

But the body has begun to have other ideas.

“It’s the recovery, and over the last two of three seasons it’s become very difficult.

“What you lose in your legs you make up for upstairs in your head, but over the last couple of years too many youngsters have run past me which is hard to take.”

A gifted playmaker, Stevenson won a UCL Premier Division winner’s medal with Deeping, but while often central to Holwell’s creativity, he picked up plenty of plaudits yet no silverware there.

Yet despite the lack of honours, there are plenty of fond memories, particularly the club’s epic FA Vase runs earlier this decade under Daws.

But alongside the many positives looking back, there is also concern, particularly in the decline in grassroots senior football.

“I think local football has suffered over the last few years and there just isn’t the commitment from young lads now,” he said.

“When I first went up to Holwell, there were youth teams and reserves, but now it’s a struggle to get two teams out.

“It’s a shame, but I’ve known Neil Miller (Holwell manager) for a long time and he has got some good ideas so I hope they can kick on and finish at the other end of the league.”

So what now on a Saturday afternoon? For the foreseeable future there will be nappies to change and parenthood to get to grips with.

But there may still be time for an afternoon in the stands, and in the years that follow, coaching remains an option.

“I will definitely stay in football and get up to Holwell when I can,” he added.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and met some really good people that I won’t forget.

“It feels like 10 minutes ago that I was going to Deeping and Stamford.

“I was asked what advice I’d give to young players and I’d say you have to play every game like it’s your last because it flies by.”