31st May – Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of the best goalkeepers but he proved to be one of the most consistent in the United Kingdom.

The Finnish international proved himself as a great shot stopper and consistent performer throughout his whole career, beginning it professionally in Finland with HJK Helsinki, where he made 101 league appearances for the club before making the move to Copenhagen. At the Danish giants he played 47 league games and after impressing over the next two years, he was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs and it was Glasgow Rangers that signed him in 1997.

He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show his true abilities, only making 13 league appearances, at the club but he had settled well in Scotland and wanted to stay in the country. In December 1999, Hearts signed him and he became a fans favourite very quickly with his impressive performances. After three seasons though it was once again time to move on and this time to England, where he joined Southampton in 2002.

Niemi Hearts

There were many ups and downs while at Southampton, including helping the club reach the FA Cup final in 2003 but he made history by becoming the first goalkeeper to be substituted in a final after he suffered a calf injury. The team would ultimately go on to lose the game 1-0 against Arsenal. His ability was never in doubt in England and over the next few seasons there was a lot of speculation about him leaving for one of the teams challenging for the title. In 2005, however, Southampton were relegated from the Premier League and despite staying on, they never looked likely to return so Niemi felt it was time to leave and test himself once more in a top league. The player, himself, described this experience as his first bad one in British football.

Niemi Soton

Niemi returned to the Premier League in January 2006, signing for Fulham. And was their first choice keeper until March 2008 when an injury led to him losing his place to Kasey Keller. After 62 league games for the club, Niemi announced his retirement from the game. However, he did sign a one year contract with Portsmouth to provide backup to David James. He left the club without making a single appearance for the club and once again announced his retirement.

Niemi Fulham

On the international scene he was first choice for almost a decade, being capped 67 times by Finland and he kept his place ahead of fellow Premier League goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen and Peter Enckleman, which just shows how much quality he had.

The final word can go to former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe when signing the stopper. “He has a good character. He is the Finnish number one and he played an absolute blinder to keep out Germany so that England qualified for the World Cup. We are confident he will be a tremendous addition to our squad.”

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6th February – Per Frandsen

Per Frandsen is a player that will be very familiar to fans of Bolton Wanderers because he put in some brilliant performances for the club and scored some sublime goals.

The midfielder is now 45 and will go down as one of the most important players in Bolton’s recent history as he helped them gain promotion to the Premier League and also produced some solid performances to keep them in the top flight. He was a midfielder that could create a lot from the centre of the pitch and could certainly score some cracking goals, including one against Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2002-03 season which just highlighted everything about his game.

Frandsen started his career in his native Denmark with B 1903 and made an instant impact with the club. He would go on to finish as the third best goalscorer of the 1990 Danish First Division and ended his time at the club with 15 goals in just 25 league games which is a very good record for any player. In November 1990 he made the move to France and joined Lille for a club record fee. He spent four years with Lille and he was very consistent despite still being quite young and inexperienced and took to a new style of football very quickly. During his time at the club he scored 19 league goals in 109 games but they could not keep hold of their promising midfielder because of financial difficulties and he returned to Denmark, signing for Copenhagen.

Frandsen Lille

He acknowledged this would only be a temporary move and after helping the club lift the Danish Cup in 1995, he moved to Bolton Wanderers for £1.25 million in August 1996. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Port Vale and went on to score his first goal for the club in the next game against Manchester City. It was during this time that he was being linked with moves to the Premier League as he was considered one of the best to play outside of the top flight. But instead he stayed with Bolton and helped them win promotion to the Premier League. Despite this being followed by relegation he was one of the bright spots in the team.

Frandsen Copenhagen

In September 1999 he made the move to Blackburn Rovers for £1.75 million and the Bolton manager Colin Todd resigned because he was against the decision to sell the midfielder. Unfortunately for Frandsen it didn’t work out for him at Ewood Park and after just one season he returned to Bolton for £1.6 million. His second spell was also very good and he was very good with the younger players in the squad, particularly Kevin Nolan who has stated how important he has been in his career.

Frandsen BWFC

In 2004 he was released by Bolton after 304 first team games and 38 goals. Before he retired from the game because of a cruciate ligament injury he went on to help Wigan Athletic gain promotion to the Premier League, grabbing a goal against Brighton.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “I have ultimate respect for him. Per will go down in Bolton folklore. Everyone at the club has appreciated what he has done for us. Eight years is a long time in any career and Per has had eight great years at the club.”