AFTER coolly sending Kieren Westwood the wrong way during the penalty shoot-out that sent Huddersfield Town to Wembley, Michael Hefele turned to his team-mates standing on the centre circle and mimicked firing a bow and arrow.
His intention was to sum up the motivation that is fuelling the Terriers’ push for the promised land of the Premier League.
“I thought I would do a little Robin Hood,” explained the German defender with a big smile when asked about his Hillsborough celebration. “Robin Hood takes from the rich and gives to the poor. When you see Sheffield (Wednesday), they are a huge club. Like a massive club. Compared to them, we are small.”
Hefele’s victory pose pretty much sums up Town’s unlikely attempts to claim a place at the top table of English football. While their more moneyed peers have thrown millions at promotion, Huddersfield have kept their own dream alive through a combination of hard work, down-to-earth nous and heart.
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Written off even when sitting atop the Championship for two months in the autumn, David Wagner’s side have spent the entire season proving people wrong. Hefele, a fans’ favourite almost from the moment he first stepped off the plane from Germany last year, loves that. It is what the 6ft 4ins defender has been doing all his life.
Rejected by TSV 1860 Munich on an almost annual basis at trials as a youngster, Hefele started at the bottom in the regional league with SpVgg Unterhaching. Three years ago, his career was still going nowhere so a lifestyle change was made.
My final two years in Germany were very important. To know some fans are coming to Wembley from Dresden makes me very proud because it shows I did a good job there.Huddersfield Town’s Michael Hefele
Out went any wheat-based foods and milk. Likewise, pork was off the menu along with any gluten. Hefele had never drunk alcohol but extra sessions in the gym soon became the norm and, over time, he started to feel the benefits. So, too, did his career, as a move to Dynamo Dresden suddenly brought the breakthrough he had craved.
He became a huge favourite at the Stadion Dresden, so much so that there has been a steady stream of German visitors to Huddersfield this season wanting to catch up with their hero. A good number of those Dynamo fans will be at Wembley today.
“I am very happy that you get a little bit back what you have invested,” he says of that lifestyle change. “My final two years in Germany were very important. To know some fans are coming to Wembley from Dresden makes me very proud because it shows I did a good job there.”
The adulation felt for Hefele in Dresden has been repeated in Huddersfield. Scoring just 26 seconds into his league debut from the bench undoubtedly helped in that respect but it is also the 26-year-old’s engaging and unassuming personality.
Hefele is not your average footballer. For a start, he shuns bigger models to drive a smart car. “It is enough for me to get to the training ground and back,” he explains.
“It is easy to park. The only bad thing is the (parking) fines. Here, they are so big.”
Another factor in his popularity among Terriers’ supporters is his now infamous on-field interview after scoring a late winner against Leeds United in February that turned the air blue in living rooms across the country.
T-shirts with a more acceptable reworking of his original outburst – ‘It’s a Heffing Dream’ – quickly became a best seller in the club shop.
Reminded of this episode, Hefele looks sheepish before adding: “It is what it is. It is a hugedream for me. I am not allowed to say anything else. As the club say, it is a Heffing dream. Everyone else in the team is dreaming of this since a little boy, that is all what we are playing for.”
Asked if he will be able to keep it clean in front of the cameras if Huddersfield triumph this afternoon, the German replies: “When we do the last step, I think everyone will go crazy. I say ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’ before the game but I think it is important we don’t look at the 90,000 at Wembley or the cameras, just do what we have to do.”
Town’s shoot-out victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals sparked post-match scenes that will live long in the memory of those who had made the short trip south. For Hefele, however, it very nearly ended badly due to him not realising that the fans in the lower tier of the Leppings Lane Stand were supporting the home club.
“I was nearly there and everyone was saying some bad words and doing this,” he laughs before mimicking a two-fingered salute once made famous by show-jumper Harvey Smith. “I was like: ‘Okay, maybe I go a little bit back’. Reading are also blue so there could be another mistake at the final. I will have to be careful.”
Hefele’s Robin Hood impression at Hillsborough is not the only unusual celebration he has done since arriving in England. There has also been the ‘claw’ – or ‘kralle’ in his native tongue – that got its first outing after the German had marked his debut for Town by netting a late equaliser at Aston Villa.
“That celebration is about a lion,” he explained. “I like lions. They are a weapon from Bavaria, where I come from. I did this celebration before to show where I come from. A lion is also strong, and likes to look after the boys and family. And they fight for each other.
“That is just what I am doing. I fight on the pitch and try to win. I give 100 per cent and put all my heart on the pitch.”
So, following the ‘claw’ and ‘Robin Hood’, has Hefele got anything special planned for Wembley? “I don’t want to say,” he replies. “I have something but it is not important. What is important is that we win and we go up. It doesn’t matter who scores or what the result is. I want this one-way ticket that goes up.”