We continue our countdown of the greatest players in Aston Villa's history with a striker whose goalscoring exploits for the club earned him a big money move abroad.
22. Gerry Hitchens
Born: Rawnsley, 8 October 1934
Aston Villa: 1957-1961
Appearances: 160 Goals: 96
Hitchens only spent three-and-a-half-seasons at Aston Villa, yet he came just four goals short of hitting the century scoring mark for the club.
The Staffordshire-born striker began his career with non-league side Kidderminster Harriers before joining Cardiff City in 1955, where a record of 53 goals in 105 appearances led to a £22,500 move to Villa in December 1957.
Some still questioned at the time whether manager Eric Houghton had made a wise investment – not least because Hitchens was unavailable for full-time training due to his National Service commitments – but the selfless centre-forward steadily won over the claret and blue faithful.
He netted 11 times across all competitions over the second half of the 1957-58 campaign before scoring 18 goals during his first full season at Villa Park to finish as the club’s top scorer.
His efforts were ultimately not enough to save the Midlands side from relegation, but with his army obligations finally behind him, Hitchens truly came into his own during the 1960-61 campaign, scoring 25 goals to help Joe Mercer’s men bounce back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.
With his confidence sky-high, Villa’s star man promptly took Division One by storm the following season, netting an astounding 42 times in 56 total appearances to guide the club to the League Cup final and earn the first of his seven England caps.
Unfortunately for Villa, though, his stellar campaign also brought him attention from abroad and soon he was making an £85,000 switch to Inter Milan, where he established himself as a fan favourite in his first season with a team-leading 16 goals.
He went on to spend eight more years in Italy, enjoying further stints at Torino, Atalanta and Cagliari before returning to the UK in 1969 to see out his career with Worcester City and Merthyr Tydfil, respectively.
Internationally, Hitchens played at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, but his one-goal performance in the quarter-final defeat to Brazil would surprisingly end up being the last time he played for England.
Sir Alf Ramsey took over the Three Lions the following year and made it clear that he would only select home-based players, bringing the Serie A striker’s international career to an early end.
Sadly, his life also ended prematurely when he died of a heart attack at the age of 48 after collapsing during a charity match in Wales in 1983.
Aston Villa: top 30 players