Grant McCann 1996-2003
Signed from Northern Irish side Lisburn Distillery in 1996, McCann found first-team chances severely limited during his time with the club making only four substitute appearances, his final game appearance was the 7-1 hammering at Blackburn Rovers in the early stages of Glenn Roeder’s tenure.
McCann was perhaps unfortunate to have been vying for a midfield position with the likes of Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole so it’s no surprise the Ulsterman found the need to look elsewhere for first-team opportunities.
During the early part of his West Ham career he was loaned to Livingston and Notts County, but having made a good impression during two loan spells with Cheltenham Town, the club finally signed McCann for a club record fee of £50,000. McCann would go on to play over 150 times for the Gloucestershire club helping them to promotion to League One via the playoffs in 2006.
McCann moved on to Barnsley initially on loan in November 2006 before making a permanent move for £100,000 in January 2007. McCann stayed one season, before dropping down a League to join promotion-chasing Scunthorpe United.
McCann again saw success in playoffs being part of Scunthorpe’s win against Millwall securing Scunthorpe’s promotion to the Championship for only the third time in the club’s history. McCann stayed two more seasons with Scunthorpe before moving to Peterborough, who he would represent nearly 200 times in all competitions including captaining the club to promotion to the Championship through the playoffs in 2011 scoring and winning the Man of the Match award in the final against the highly favoured Huddersfield.
In winning his 3rd playoff final McCann holds the honour of being the first player to win promotion from three different playoff finals with three different teams at three different venues; in 2006 with Cheltenham at the Millennium Stadium at Wembley, in 2009 with Scunthorpe and finally in 2011 with Peterborough at Old Trafford.
McCann stayed with Peterborough until he was released in 2015, he had a brief spell with Northern Irish side Linfield before returning to Peterborough in a coaching capacity. Grant took over the manager’s position at Peterborough in May 2016 on a four-year contract.
McCann also represented Northern Ireland 39 times, his final game coming in the 6-0 defeat to the Netherlands in 2012.
Grant McCann left West Ham having been starved of first-team action, he has gone on to have a distinguished career in the lower leagues and is now earning plaudits for his management style at Peterborough.
Thomas Hitzlsperger 2010-2011
Thomas Hitzlsperger joined the club from Lazio in 2010. He came to Upton Park with Premier League experience and Bundesliga winners’ medal with Stuttgart . He joined in June but could not make his debut until February because of persistent knee problems. The German marked his debut with a trademark powerful left-footed shot, the first goal in a 5-1 victory against Burnley in the 5th round of the FA Cup. The German followed this up by putting in an impressive display in his league debut against Liverpool in a 3-1 win which briefly lifted the club off the bottom of the table.
The German could not prevent West Ham sliding to relegation that season and thanks to a clause in his contract Hitzlsperger was free to leave the club playing his last game in the 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland in May 2011.
Having left London, Thomas moved to Wolfsburg back in Germany but only featured in 6 games and was released after only one season and moved on to Everton on a short-term contract. His short time on Merseyside was interrupted by injury and at the age of 31 Thomas announced his retirement from the game citing the strain of the injuries and transfers and his need for “something else”.
Throughout his playing career, the German always had a diverse set of interests away from the game, far from the stereotypical football Hitzlsperger had a keen interest in economics and studied investment strategies during his time in England.
His has also blogged for a German anti-racism site which encourages debate about xenophobia and racism in Germany.
Thomas hit the headlines shortly after retirement when he became the highest profile footballer to come out as gay in 2014, and he has gone on to speak about homophobia in football and in sport in general.
On the whole, Thomas was impressed by the positive response he received from within the game speaking to the Guardian shortly after his announcement.
It’s good to know, not just for me but for others who are still playing now, that those at the top have no problem, that they support you. When the chancellor (of Germany) comes out in your favour, you know it’s safe being homosexual in this country; that you will not be discriminated against. There will always be a small minority who think otherwise but hopefully, their numbers will become fewer and fewer over the next few years.
Thomas has appeared on English television as a pundit and always gives his opinion in an erudite fashion, a player who didn’t really get to chance at West Ham but will undoubtedly play a leading role combating homophobia in football in the future.