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In Search of the Lions: Hitzlsperger on special Aston Villa career, rocket goals, Der Hammer nickname and the Holte End

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In Search of the Lions: Hitzlsperger on special Aston Villa career, rocket goals, Der Hammer nickname and the Holte End

Thomas Hitzlsperger didn’t need time to think before he delivered his verdict on a five-year spell at Aston Villa, stressing: “It was a really special time for me”. 

Hitzlsperger, who also played for this week’s opponents Everton, left a lasting impression on the claret and blue faithful.  

‘Der Hammer’ became a cult figure with the fans for his trademark bullet goals, his intense industry in the middle of the park and his likeable demeanour.  

They were sorry to see him leave to return home to Germany, with VfB Stuttgart, in 2006 but he departed with many happy memories in his heart. 

"I certainly remember the supporters screaming 'Shoot' whenever I got the ball. How can I forget that?” Thomas Hitzlsperger
"I have always said it was a really special time for me at Villa. I had a wonderful time. 

"It was difficult in the beginning because I was very young and in a new country. I had to adapt to the culture and make new friends. 

"But Villa as a club were fantastic. They helped me a great deal and made it far easier for me to settle in. 

"Once I got into the first team, life in claret and blue was just fantastic. I have such fond memories of the people there - the players and the staff - and the fans. It was special. 

"The fans coined that phrase 'Der Hammer'. So many people still call me 'Der Hammer' now. The fans and the players at Villa used to call me it and it just stuck. It's great. 

"It all started at Villa. I don't know who came up with it - the person who first used it - but I'd like to thank him or her now. 

"The fans were just great. The support was incredible. It makes a huge difference in football when the fans like you. I always had the impression that the supporters liked me. 

"They were so friendly and welcoming when I came on to the pitch and when I played. I felt that support. It was very, very good. 

"That was one of the big reasons why I look back so fondly - the fans. 

"People remember my shot, of course. I practiced a lot when I was younger. But it was a bit of talent aswell. 

"I did notice in my early years that I could hit the ball harder than a lot of the other lads. 

"I kept practicing and it worked well for me. That's what people remember me for - my shot. That's cool. That's good. It's my trademark I suppose. 

"I certainly remember the supporters screaming 'Shoot' whenever I got the ball. How can I forget that?” 

TH3Hitzlsperger rarely seemed to score tap-ins and his super strikes are still fondly remembered in these parts. 

Who can forget his rocket in front of the Holte End in the 2-2 draw with Blues or his derby winner against West Brom? 

Then there were two from his final season – a last-minute volley at Bolton and an even better effort at Portsmouth when he flicked the ball up before thumping home an unstoppable shot. 

But which were his favourites? 

"I have to say the derby goals against West Brom and Birmingham City stand out above the others. The one against the Baggies was very important. It was a last-minute winner and I remember it like it was yesterday. 

"You had fans jumping around everywhere, leaping out of their seats and screaming with joy. The noise when I scored that one was truly incredible. 

"But the one against Birmingham City was amazing. Scoring in that derby match is a phenomenal feeling. It was in front of the Holte End - it was a dream come true! 

"We didn't win the game. But my goal put us 2-0 up so I was feeling on top of the world at that moment. It was incredible. 

"Then there were my goals against Bolton and Portsmouth. They were great goals but the key is that they were winning goals! That adds a lot. 

"The Portsmouth one was goal of the season if I remember right. Bolton was late in the game and Portsmouth too. I took both well technically. They weren't easy. They sat up nicely for me. 

"You go home and watch them again on Match of the Day in the evening. Those are the moments you live for in football." 

TH6Recruited on a free transfer in August 2000, Hitzlsperger was restricted to a single first team appearance in his initial season with the club – a 3-0 defeat by Liverpool on the day Juan Pablo Angel was paraded at Villa Park. 

It was a tough start to life in England. 

"It all started when I went to the U17 World Cup with Germany in New Zealand. I got a trial for Villa after that and because I didn't have a contract with Bayern Munich at the time, I thought 'yeah.' I fancied my chances. 

"I trained with the reserves and then the first team. The coaches were impressed and they offered me a contract. 

"They showed real interest. They showed they really wanted me. Other clubs who found out I was thinking about moving weren't as clear. Villa said 'we want you eventually for our first team.' 

"I thought it was the right move and I could have a good career there. I was right! 

"It was hard at the beginning but it made me stronger. I was proud that I didn't just throw in the towel and say 'it's not going to work out, I'm going home.' 

"It was good to stay there and fight my way through. 

"When I first signed, I didn't know what to expect. I wanted to get into the first team, of course and be a good professional footballer. 

"It was new for me because I was playing abroad. What happened in those years was a path that I could never have expected. It was so special. 

"Coming from Germany to England I had to work very hard. But it was very rewarding. And the fans were special. They made life easy for me." 

TH2Hitzlsperger was left wondering whether he would ever break through after meandering along in the reserves under John Gregory in his early spell. 

But the arrival of Graham Taylor into the hotseat was the catalyst he needed. 

Just before he was appointed boss for a second time, Taylor watched Hitzlsperger excel against Blackburn Rovers reserves. 

Taylor was impressed and the rest is history as Hitzlsperger made his first-team debut at Old Trafford against a Man Utd team featuring Juan Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and David Beckham followed up by a home start in a 2-1 win over West Ham. 

"Graham changed everything. He changed my career. 

"He watched me in the reserves before he was appointed and he had confidence in my abilities and I played at Man Utd soon after. I came on. I thought 'this is good' I was excited. 

"I had my home debut in a 2-1 win over West Ham the following week and it just went on from there. I have to thank Graham for giving me your debut. 

"When he told me to warm-up at Man Utd, I wasn't convinced I would be coming on. I had warmed up before with John Gregory and never gone on. 

"He called me back and said 'you're going on.' I thought 'wow, this is going to be interesting.' 

"I was so, so nervous when he was giving me instructions before I went on. But when I came on, all that pressure fell off me. 

"I just thought 'come on Thomas, do something, run about, get involved, impress.' I had a couple of shots on goal and did my best. I was happy and he must have been too because he gave me a start the next week. 

"The following season - 2002/03 - was my first full campaign. I had several starts and came off the bench quite a bit too. It was a great experience. 

"It wasn't the best season but the experience I gained - being part of a Premier League squad at a huge club like Villa - that was unbelievable. It gave me plenty of confidence. 

"I had high expectations. I wanted to get better and better. That was my mindset throughout that season and then in the following seasons too." 

TH4Hitzlsperger then gave his all for two terms under David O'Leary before Stuttgart came calling, offering him an opportunity he couldn't turn down. 

"My contract was up at the end of the season. I had a feeling that I wanted to go back to Germany. I was German but had never played in the Bundesliga. 

"I wanted to try that out. Stuttgart were keen. So I decided to move. 

"But it wasn't easy, I have to tell you. After five years at Villa, I had made a lot of friends and enjoyed life at the club immensely. It wasn't a decision I took lightly. But it paid off because it was a successful spell at Stuttgart."

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Paul Brown
By @paulbrownavfc 21st August 2019