Former Germany midfielder visits Scottish grassroots clubs on pre-EURO 2024 ambassadorial visit

With less than a month to go until Scotland's eagerly-awaited clash with UEFA EURO 2024 hosts Germany, Scotland played host to Official German Football Ambassador Thomas Hitzlsperger, who offered his support for a number of the Scottish FA's community initiatives that promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

The former Aston Villa, West Ham and Stuttgart midfielder won 52 caps for the German national team during a stellar career and after becoming one of the highest-profile male footballers to come out, has subsequently gone on to become a prominent ambassador for equality, diversity and inclusion. 

Hitzlsperger joined Scottish footballer Zander Murray for the ‘Challenging Homophobia in Football Workshop’, which was delivered to young footballers from Rossvale Football Club and West Park United. The workshop – which is set to be delivered at football clubs around the country as part of the Scottish FA's Football Vs Homophobia campaign, in collaboration with Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), LEAP Sports Scotland, aims to educate young people on issues around building inclusive football clubs and challenging discriminatory behaviour.

Prior to this workshop, the German Ambassador visited Drumchapel United where he heard from the club leaders and young coaches who oversaw sessions, including an Additional Support Needs (ASN) session for young people, and a recreational session, targeted primarily at those who want be part of the club and enjoy the benefits of football as part of a 'drop in' approach. These sessions are part of the club's wider approach to make the game as accessible for as many people as possible in their local community. 

Hitzlsperger said: "I’m very excited as I look forward to that opening match. You can feel it back home with the amount of ticket requests. Everyone wants to be a part of it because a lot of people remember the World Cup in 2006 which was a great tournament. Being in Scotland it’s given me a confirmation that so many Scottish people can’t wait to go to Germany.

“For those going, first of all, Germany is a great country, it’s so big and it offers so much depending on where people travel. Munich is my home town and I’ve only got good things to say.

“The fans go first of all for the football and I hope for all the Scottish supporters that the team will go beyond the group stages and be successful.

“John McGinn, in particular, has had such a great season like so many of the players at my former club Aston Villa. I want him to do well – maybe not so well in the game against Germany but beyond, I wish him all the best and it will be great to follow his future career.

“There is that rivalry between Scotland and Germany when it comes to football matches but that’s only going on for 90 minutes. Before and after, it’s about the camaraderie, it’s about bringing people together. I’m looking forward to it and I’ve met so many people who are the same, so let’s have a wonderful time together."

As part of the visit, arranged in collaboration with the German Consulate, the German Foreign Office and the Scottish Government, Hitzlsperger also visited Hampden Park and the Scottish Football Museum before supporting the two projects in Drumchapel and Bishopbriggs.  

Speaking after the conclusion of the ‘Challenging Homophobia in Football Workshop’, Hitzlsperger added: “It was great to see so many young kids listening and understanding that, when they go and play football, there is no room for discrimination. Life is not always perfect but, to see that happening here was wonderful.

“We have developed – this sort of thing didn’t happen when I was a kid but I don’t want to look back too much. The fact is, nowadays I see so many different initiatives where people take the opportunity to educate the younger generation and that is so wonderful to see.

“There can’t be too much of this kind of thing. It’s great to see the proof that’s going on.”

Robin Drummond, Scottish FA Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager, stressed the importance of role models like Thomas Hitzlsperger and Zander Murray when it comes to community football initiatives: “It's been fantastic to have Thomas over ahead of the European Championship, seeing some of the amazing work that we’ve been doing to promote diversity and inclusion in our community clubs in Scotland.

"It’s definitely effective for children having these messages coming from the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger and also Zander Murray, who have both played the game. Having role models who have played at the highest level and can speak so well about their experiences is so powerful.”

Zander Murray, who led the workshop at Rossvale, became Scotland's first openly gay footballer in 2022 and, since announcing his decision to retire from football at the end of the season, he has turned his attention to promoting equality in Scotland.

Speaking after the workshop, he said: "I used to always remember watching Thomas on Match of the Day, so for him to come out and for people to be cool with it and just accept him as a role model was amazing.

“He’s so visible and it meant the world having someone like him there. Our programme has received great recognition in this country and from the top clubs so to see it now getting international attention is fantastic.

"Our main message is for kids to be incredibly mindful of what they’re saying because it can directly impact that person next to them, and we hope there’s always loads of tangible take-aways for coaches and for parents as well from these sessions."

Read more about the Scottish FA’s Equality Strategy, Football Unites, at Diversity and Inclusion Resources | Scottish FA