Westwood on Crewe return: I owe so much to lots of people there
Ashley Westwood is relishing a return to his hometown club Crewe Alexandra, admitting: "I owe so much to the people there."
Westwood heads back to his old stomping ground on Friday evening for the first time since his August deadline day switch to Villa.
The midfielder, who helped the Railwaymen win promotion back to League One in 2011-12 before going on to captain the club, still has close ties at Gresty Road.
His dad Kev works there as an electrician, while the 23-year-old has also been helping out Crewe player-coach Steve Phillips with his fundraising efforts for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.
Westwood says the values he learned at Crewe stood him in good stead for his move to B6.
"I was seven when I joined Crewe's Academy and it was the best possible environment for me," he said.
"My dad is the electrician at Gresty Road and I always thought he had managed to get me in - I never really considered that I might be good enough to one day go on and make a career in the game.
"I loved it, always did from day one. What's in place there, the whole set-up and the commitment to developing players and giving them the opportunity to go and play, it's remarkable.
"There are some tremendously dedicated people there, too many to mention and I owe them so much. The standards expected of any young lad who comes through at Crewe are such that you gain the best possible grounding.
"I lived for football and at the Alex I learnt how the game should be played. That's helped me here at the Villa as it's very similar what we had at Crewe to the ethos and values that are in place here.
"Everybody knows the exceptional success rate of the Academy here and, from speaking to the likes of Ciaran Clark, Marc Albrighton, Nathan Baker, Chris Herd, Andi Weimann, it's very clear that the way you represent the club off the pitch is tremendously important as well."
Westwood reflects fondly on an "unbelievable" year which saw him represent Crewe at Wembley in the play-offs, celebrate the arrival of his son Frankie and realise his Premier League dream with Villa.
But he hopes to achieve plenty more this season with Paul Lambert's emerging team.
"Last summer so many things happened in the space of a few months it was unbelievable," the midfielder said.
"I always say I wish I could bottle the memories but you can't. But I've kept the shirts and I have plenty of pictures, so when it's all over I'll be able to look back.
"You don't get the time now and to be honest your whole focus is on looking ahead.
"It's a really exciting season in prospect. The team came through a lot last season and we feel like we've progressed together and are better for the whole experience.
"We're also stronger as a squad with the signings the gaffer has made this summer and everyone's looking forward to the season and can't wait to get it started."
Westwood is thrilled to supporting Phillips' fundraising drive - particularly as his ex-colleague chose Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research because of Stiliyan Petrov's battle with the illness.
"Steve's raised so much for charity over the years and, with what Stan has been through over the past year or so, he decided to put his fundraising efforts behind this cause," added Westwood.
"Steve does all the hard work but I try to help as much as I can behind-the-scenes, as do other people connected with Crewe which is great.
"I never thought anyone might ever be interested in bidding for a shirt or a pair of boots I've worn in a game but if we can raise money that way it's tremendous to be able to help out and to contribute in whatever way we can for this cause.
"Steve does a great job raising money for these causes, and obviously this is a cause that's dear to the hearts of Villa fans so it's great to be involved.
"Steve's worked really hard and the cause deserves all the help we can give them as Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research do great work."
Phillips has been a keen fundraiser for around a decade, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for a variety of charities.
"Every year I decide which charity to raise money for and we do as much as we can for them," he said.
"Over the years we've raised a lot of money. We managed to raise £8,000 for a little girl who was very ill last year to send her to Disneyland and previously we've raised £10,000 which was split between the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society and a soldier who was wounded in Afghanistan.
"After seeing Stan's situation, when he was diagnosed with leukaemia, I decided that this year I'd raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.
"Geoff Thomas is an ex-Crewe player and he's obviously very involved with the charity as well after his own battle with leukaemia so he's helped out as well.
"The main part of the appeal was a bike ride to Paris that I took part in with other people who were raising money for charity, but we've had lots of auctions on Twitter and a golf day, a bingo night, a dinner event and other things like that.
"People have been amazingly generous and we've raised over £20,000 so far this year."
To bid for items including signed Ashley Westwood and Christian Benteke memorabilia and to find out more details, visit https://www.justgiving.com/steve-phillips1 or contact Steve on Twitter @stevephillips78
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