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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3rd November – Stevie May

Sheffield Wednesday have made a good start to the season but they have struggled to put the ball in net and they will be hoping that Stevie May can find his feet in the Championship soon.

They have the joint best defensive record in the division and if only they could have scored more goals then they would have been closer to the top of the league than they currently are. May will need time to adapt to the English game but if the chances fall his way then he will surely hit the back of the net on a regular basis.

The 22 year old started his career at St Johnstone and made his debut as a 16 year old on the 11th May 2009 against Airdrie United and even managed to score. This convinced the club to give him a new contract but did not make an appearance in the following season as he needed extra time to develop. He had to wait until a game against Hearts on the 13th November 2010 to make his next appearance and would then start his first game against Motherwell on the 26th January 2011. In total he played 22 games over the course of the season and scored twice in a 2-0 win over Hamilton.
May SJ
At the start of the 2011-12 season he could not break into the first team and joined Alloa Athletic on loan and was instrumental in the club winning the Scottish Third Division. He scored a hatrick against East Stirlingshire in January 2012 and was in fantastic form for the rest of the season. Later in the season he would score four times against Elgin City to secure the title for Alloa and was then named the SFL Third Division Player of the Season after 19 goals in 22 games. This also led to him being given an extended contract at his parent club.

But it did not secure him a first team place at St Johnstone and he once again went out on loan. This time to First Division side Hamilton. After a slightly slow start he found his feet in the higher division and began to score goals for fun, including hatricks in consecutive games in April 2013 against Airdrieonians and Livingston. At the end of the season he won more personal awards after scoring 26 goals in just 35 games. This form finally convinced his parent club to give him a chance in their first team.
May Hamilton
May started the season well with four goals in the first nine league games and a winner over Rosenborg in the Europa League. The following month, May won the October SPL Player of the Month after scoring five times in four games. His goalscoring did not slow as he hit two hatricks in the space of three weeks against Dundee United and then Hearts. May’s 19th and 20th goals of the season were arguably his most important as they were in the Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen which secured the club’s place in their first ever final. They would go on to lift the trophy with May providing the assist for former Sheffield Wednesday favourite Steven MacLean. May finished the season with 27 goals in all competitions and he was linked with moves away from the club all summer, however he played in the early rounds of the Europa League, scoring against Luzern and Spartak Trnava.

On the 9th August 2014, the striker signed for Sheffield Wednesday and scored his first goal for the club against Middlesbrough on the 23rd August. He would go on to also score against Birmingham City and Reading in the following weeks but now he has to push on and grab more goals for the side.
May SW
The final word can go to Sheffield Wednesday manager Stuart Gray. “We’ve got to create chances for him. He’s got a calmness in the 18 yard box where he can pick out the corners. I’ve got every confidence he will convert them. He’s very keen to get into the full Scotland squad.”

1st October – Ricardo Vaz Te

Ricardo Vaz Te may not be getting much game time at West Ham at the moment but the club definitely owe a lot to him and may not even be in the Premier League if it wasn’t for him.

The forward scored a late winner in the Championship playoff final against Blackpool just a few months after signing for the club and the fans, board and manager should not forget his achievements. This season West Ham are definitely a more attacking team and have certainly played a lot better football and maybe the fans would have seen more of Vaz Te’s talents had he been in a side that played this style of football. Now 28 he should be in the best years of his career but he is sat on the bench probably getting more frustrated.

Vaz Te started his career at Bolton Wanderers in 2003 when Sam Allardyce was in charge and quickly rose through the youth teams and made his debut in an FA Cup tie against Tranmere Rovers in January 2004. Two months later he made his Premier League debut in a 2-0 defeat against Middlesbrough and started his first ever game away to Manchester United later in the year.
Vaz Te Bolton
Over the next few seasons he was involved regularly but most of his appearances were from the bench and injuries ruined his time at the club. On the 11th May 2010 he was released by Bolton after playing 78 times and scoring seven goals, while at the club he also had a loan spell at Hull City.

On the 30th June 2010 Vaz Te joined Greek side Panionios on a three year deal, however the club suffered financial problems and after just six months agreed to cancel his contract. He feature eight times for the club, scoring one goal but it must have been difficult for a young player to continue playing when he had not received any pay for four of the six months he was at the club.

His next move was to Scotland after a trial with Hibernian, they signed him on the 28th February 2011 and made his debut in a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone. Although his time at the club was short, he did become a fan favourite after scoring in the Edinburgh derby against Hearts, however this turned out to be his only goal. At the end of the season he joined Championship side Barnsley in July 2011 on trial and impressed enough to earn a contract with the club.

He had to wait a while to score his first goal but will go down as one of the club’s best strikers in recent years after hitting a fantastic run of form. His first goal did not come until a 2-0 win over Burnley on the 18th October and afterwards he scored some important goals that will make the Barnsley fans never forget him. On the 6th December he scored the fastest goal in Barnsley’s history after scoring only 8.5 seconds into a match against Crystal Palace and then scored a hatrick against Leeds United in a 4-1 win on the 31st December.
Vaz Te Barnsley
After 10 goals in 22 games he was being linked with moves away from the club and joined promotion chasing West Ham on the 31st January 2012. Over the course of the 2011-12 season Vaz Te scored 24 goals, including 12 in just 18 games for his new club, including the winning goal in the Championship playoff final.
Vaz Te WH
Since promotion to the Premier League, he has suffered from injuries and has never really been given a run in the side.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “Ricardo Vaz Te: what a signing. He’s one of my best signings ever and I’ve had some bargain buys in my time, he deserves a lot of credit. He was down and out in his career, and I brought him back.”

26th September – Paul Dummett

Newcastle United have had a terrible start to the season and will be hoping that Paul Dummett’s winning goal in the League Cup can kick start their campaign and they can compete at the right end of the table.

Dummett is 23 today and will more than most players at the club want to do well for the fans because he is a local lad but it has been difficult for those in the stands to get behind the manager Alan Pardew. The left back will be hoping that his goal against Crystal Palace can secure his place in the starting lineup against Stoke City and can help the club get their first win of the Premier League season.

He has come up through the youth system and in recent years with Newcastle’s transfer policy this has been a rare occurrence and he should have quickly became a fan favourite but unfortunately for him his rise up the ranks has coincided with Newcastle decrease in quality.
Dummett NUFC
The left back had to go out on loan to get some first team action and joined Conference side Gateshead on loan in March 2012 for an initial month, but after several impressive performances this was extended until the end of the season. During his time at the club he played 10 games and helped them keep six clean sheets. Once again in the following season he had to go out on loan and joined Scottish Premier League side St Mirren.
Dummett Gateshead
On the 15th September 2012 he made his debut in a 2-0 win over Hearts and then went on to score his first senior goal in a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone. With his loan spell coming to an end, the Scottish side wanted to extend his loan but he returned to Newcastle and made his debut for them in a disappointing FA Cup defeat to Brighton on the 5th January 2013. After failing to break into the team regularly he rejoined St Mirren on the 31st January until the end of the season. While at the club he helped them win their first trophy in 26 years as he played the full 90 minutes in the Scottish League Cup final victory over Hearts.
Dummett STM
After playing 30 times in the SPL he was rewarded with a new one year contract by Newcastle. With his extra experience he was now ready for the first team and he started to feature more as the 2013-14 season progressed. He then went on to score his first ever goal for the club in a 2-2 draw against Liverpool in October 2013. Soon afterwards he was given a new contract which meant his deal was extended until 2019. He played 21 times and started the new season as the first choice left back with Davide Santon injured and Massadio Haidara being left on the bench.

The final word can go to Alan Pardew. “We love him to bits. Paul’s a local lad. He’s having to prove to the Newcastle public that he’s good enough. It’s hard for players to come through the academy these days. He does what it says on the tin. He’s a tough tackler, he’s good going forward.”

14th September – Steven Naismith

Steven Naismith has been one of the surprising stars of the Premier League so far and now at the age of 27 he is getting towards the best years of his career.

Everton have had an indifferent start to the season but with their 2-0 victory over West Brom they will be hoping this is where things will get more consistent for them and they will battle for a place in the top four. Despite this being their only league win so far, they have also only lost one game and Naismith has been in excellent form, scoring in the first three games of the season against Leicester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

The striker started his career at Kilmarnock and signed professionally in August 2002, then making his debut as a substitute against Hibernian on the 24th April 2004. He had to wait until February 2005 to score his first senior goal against Hearts in a 2-2 draw. It was in the 2005-06 season that he really began to make a name for himself as he won the SPL Young Player of the Month in August and January and then the SPL Player of the Month award in March.
Naismith Everton
He continued to be one of the best strikers in Scotland and was therefore linked with moves away from the club and after 115 games and 35 goals for Kilmarnock he moved onto Rangers on the 31st August 2007. His first season at the club started off well but a knee injury in April 2008 kept him out of action for eight months. After missing the majority of the following campaign he returned to help Rangers lift the Scottish Cup.

In the 2009-10 season he received his first SPL winners medal after the club won back to back titles but this time Naismith had played enough games to get one. He played 28 times in the league, scoring three times. While at Rangers he was used a lot as a wide player and this was part of the reason he did not score a lot of goals but the 2010-11 season he had his best goal return at the club, hitting the back of the net 15 times and winning the Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters Player of the Year.
Naismith Rangers
The 2011-12 season could have been so much better for Naismith if it wasn’t cut short by injury. He started the season by scoring on the opening day against Hearts, and followed this up by scoring eight times in the first eight league games, including two against Celtic in a 4-2 win. After nine goals in 11 games he suffered a cruciate ligament injury and did not play for the club again.

Naismith joined Everton on the 4th July 2012 after Rangers had been liquidated. He made his debut as a substitute in a 1-0 win over Manchester United. He did not have the best first season as he was largely used as a substitute but he has the record of scoring the final goal of David Moyes’ reign at the club in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.
Naismith Killie
Under new manager Roberto Martinez he made a rare start against Chelsea in September 2013 and scored the game’s only goal. As the season progressed he became a more important member of the team and his good run of form coincided with Everton winning seven games on the bounce and also helping them to fifth place and also their highest point tally ever in the Premier League.

The final word can go to David Moyes. “He is an established international who can play in a number of positions. He will be an excellent addition to the players we already have and will hopefully prove to be very useful for us.”

25th June – Victor Wanyama

Victor Wanyama is the first Kenyan to play in the Premier League and also score in the Champions League in one of the biggest shocks in the competition.

While playing for Celtic the 23 year old scored against Barcelona in a 2-1 win which will go down in history as one of the club’s greatest victories in Europe. Although the defensive midfielder is not known for his goalscoring he has been a vital part to his club’s successes over the years.

Wanyama started his professional career in Belgium with Beerschot AC after a successful trial in the summer of 2008 and made his league debut towards the end of that season. His time in Belgium was mixed as he received a lot of praise for his performances but at times he was a little too aggressive and it did lead to him picking up a couple of red cards. It took him until the 11th December 2011 to score his first goal for the club as he equalised against Westerlo.
Wanyama Beer
After a failed attempt the previous summer, Celtic signed the midfielder for £900,000 on the 9th July 2011. He straightaway became a fans favourite as he did a lot of research on the club after signing and chose the number 67 shirt to honour Celtic’s European Cup winning team of that year. He made his debut for the club in a disappointing 1-0 loss to St Johnstone in the unfamiliar position of centre back but he was soon moved to his best position and proved to be a quality player. His first goal was definitely worth the wait as he scored with a fantastic striker from 25 yards against Hearts in December. At the end of the month he was named the SPL Young Player of the Month.
Wanyama Celtic
He finished the season with four goals to his name and in the next campaign he went even better by getting nine goals in all competitions, including opening the scoring against Barcelona. It wasn’t long after this goal that Wanyama was being linked with moves away from the club and after he rejected a new contract it seemed inevitable he would leave the Scottish champions and in July 2011 he joined Southampton.

The manager Mauricio Pochettino was very impressed with his new signing and knew it could be key to helping the team climb the table. “I am very pleased to have secured the signing of Victor because we are a big admirer of his talents and he will fit in well to the team at Southampton. I’ve watched him perform at the top level in the Champions League, and I believe that he will be a valuable addition to our Premier League squad for the season ahead.”
Wanyama Soton
Wanyama made his debut against West Brom but unfortunately could not have as much impact throughout the season as he struggled with a few niggling injuries and only ended up playing 24 games all season.

The final word can go to Neil Lennon. “I think Victor can play in any company. He is very consistent and you have to look at what he could develop into as well. He has been a great performer for us, he has adopted brilliantly to the British game.”

7th June – Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is 33 today and is the youngest manager in England and has been in charge of Oldham Athletic since the 18th March 2013.

It is remarkable that a club would give the manager’s job to a 31 year old but he has achieved all his expectations and has proved to be a very good appointment. His dad, Gary, is also a football manager so he has obviously had a lot of help and always has someone to call when he needs someone to talk to about tactics and other areas of management.

Johnson had an interesting start to his football career as he left Arsenal after a falling out with one of the coaches at the club and was then signed by Watford but he could not break into their team and ended up at Brighton. While at Brighton he only played once in the Football League Trophy but he did manage to score a goal in the game against Cardiff City. In 2001 he joined his father’s team Yeovil Town in the Conference and while at the club he helped them gain promotion twice as they rose to League One. The player also began to have a growing reputation as he was getting better and better as the club got higher up the leagues and he won their Player of the Year award three years in a row.

After 191 league appearances for Yeovil he left in January 2006 to join Scottish Premier League side Hearts for £50,000 and manager Graham Rix was delighted with his signing. “He will bring enthusiasm, ability, he wants to play and he wants to get better. He is dynamic. He wants to get on the ball and make passes. He is full of energy and he is competitive.” His debut was memorable as it came in a 4-1 victory over Edinburgh rivals Hibernian. However Graham Rix was sacked soon after and Johnson only made one substitute appearance after he left.
Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City - The Hawthorns
In August 2006 he was reunited with his dad as he joined Bristol City and had a very good first season by helping them win promotion to the Championship. Johnson was a key figure in Bristol City’s run to the playoff final in the Championship, unfortunately they lost the game against Hull City but the player’s reputation had grown and he was one of standout players in the division.

He remained a key member of the squad for many years but in 2010 he was loaned out to Derby County for a month and played four times for the club before returning to his parent club. He also had a brief loan spell at Chesterfield before leaving the club permanently in January 2012.
Johnson Kilmarnock
Johnson signed a two and half year deal with Kilmarnock in the SPL and he played a crucial part in the Scottish League Cup final as he set up the only goal of the game against Celtic and picked up a winners medal just a little over a month after signing for the club. Less than a year later though he decided to leave the club and was soon appointed the manager of Oldham.

His first game in charge was a 3-0 win over Hartlepool United which lifted the club out of the relegation zone and they successfully avoided relegation. His most important victory was over his dad as his team beat promotion chasing Yeovil Town towards the end of the season which must have been a great moment for the younger Johnson.
Johnson Yeovil
In the summer he had time to change the style of the club and the fans took to it warmly as they were playing fast attacking football and they received many plaudits for the way they played. However, a lot of the time they were seen as admirable losers after not getting the results they deserved but they did finish the season with a 10 match unbeaten run and finished the season in 15th place. Johnson was rewarded with a new three year contract by the board.

The final word can go to his dad Gary. “Over the years, he has been on all the courses. He’s gone out and met a lot of coaches, he’s been to Barcelona all off his own back and at his own expense. He just wants to learn, he’s like a sponge as far as wanting to take things in.”