He loves death metal, guns and feeding hens – he must be a goalie

Marcus Hahnemann cycles to training, has 'at least nine cars' and stalks deer. Phil Shaw talks to the Wolves No 1 who's the latest in a line of crazy keepers
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Five Finger Death Punch is not a goalkeeping technique, though it sounds as viable a way as any of handling a Rory Delap throw-in, but an extreme heavy metal band from Los Angeles. Among the tracks on their album War Is The Answer are "The Bleeding" and "White Knuckles". Just the job, insists Marcus Hahn-emann, for psyching him up to guard the Wolverhampton Wanderers goal.

Shortly before Wolves face Delap's Stoke City today in a derby vital to their Premier League survival prospects , the players will go through their rituals. Some offer up a prayer, others make repeated trips to the toilet. Hahnemann, who is expected to be in the United States squad to face England at this summer's World Cup, will be immersed in a private world of thrashing guitars, breakneck drums and roaring profanities.

"I've got the headphones on," says the 37-year-old from Seattle, resplendent in camouflage trousers he concedes no other Wolves player would be seen dead in. "Some people are trying to relax and compose themselves. Me, I want to get going, and that's what the music does. Very few bands make it on to my pre-game selection. Only Five Finger Death Punch, my favourites Tool, plus Slipknot, Machine Head and Mastodon."

What do you call it – death metal, thrash metal? "I call it music. Good music. My wife [Amanda] calls it crap," laughs Hahnemann, whose own riffing ability is limited to the intro to "Smoke on the Water". What about his Wolves colleagues? "They think I'm weird, but they just listen to the radio stuff, chart music. I don't get it. Most people want nothing to do with my musical taste."

While he has found kindred spirits in fellow American Kasey Keller and ex-Reading colleague Jamie Young, it may be significant that the trio play in the same position. The goalkeeping breed, depending which football adage you subscribe to, are crazy, eccentric or determinedly different.

On the pitch, Hahnemann is no Higuita, Grobbelaar or Campos, favouring rigorous professionalism over acrobatics, clowning and garish colours. Away from it, though, he is the player who often undertakes a 10-mile round trip to training by mountain bike (after feeding the hens and walking his Labrador); who owns "at least nine" vehicles here and in the US, including the Volkswagen he had in school, a gargantuan Excursion SUV, a Porsche and a Dodge truck; who goes deer stalking in Berkshire and hunts with guns "back home"; and who enjoys a mixed marriage, Amanda being a Democrat who was "for change" and voted for Barack Obama – he is a Republican who did not.

In his last year in high school, when visiting Jimi Hendrix's grave with a bottle of Jim Beam was a rite of passage, Hahnemann wanted to join the Marines and fly helicopters. A year too young, he accepted a soccer scholarship. Before graduating he turned pro with Seattle Sounders, and when he was 22 he represented his country.

"I played four times in late '94, and in the last one was named man of the match," he says. "Then I didn't play for eight-and-a-half years. I believe it's the longest gap between international appearances apart from when the Second World War took place."

In South Africa, as in Germany in 2006, he is likely to be third choice, behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Yet the enthusiast and patriot in him will not let him sulk. "I still wanna go. It's the national team. This is as good as it gets. It's not like a pub side from down the road saying, 'D'you wanna come train with us?' Look at the keepers I've been behind: [Brad] Friedel, Keller and Howard. It's an honour even if I don't get the chance to play."

Besides, patience can pay off. When a free transfer last summer saw him add Wolves to a CV which ranged from Colorado Rapids to Reading via Fulham and Rochdale (on loan), it was on the understanding that he would understudy Wayne Hennessey. "I was out fishing, which I thought I'd be doing every day for a while, when [manager] Mick McCarthy called. He said Wayne had earned the shirt and was I happy with that? I told him, 'Yes. If you need me, I'll be ready.' Being a back-up keeper isn't nice. Only one can play [and the back-up] is often not needed. The hard part is to keep training your butt off and preparing like you're first choice. Otherwise you're not ready when called upon."

When Hahnemann did play, against Swindon and Manchester United in the Carling Cup, he was "careless with the ball" and had to berate himself with reminders that it was not a training game. But since McCarthy picked him ahead of Hennessey, he has been outstanding, as Arsenal discovered last Saturday.

The previous weekend, after his clean sheet against Everton, a reporter mentioned that Fabio Capello was present for his third successive Wolves match. "I was in jokey mood and said, 'Oh yeah, he will have been scouting me again'. Addi [Adlene Guedioura, Wolves' Franco-Algerian midfielder] said the press in Algeria reckoned that I was playing for England in the World Cup!"

At the Emirates, he hardly saw a cross until Arsenal converted one for their stoppage-time winner. This week, as befits Delap's appearance on a pitch Wolves narrowed last summer, punching has been on the training-ground agenda. As well as the "flat, fast, seven-feet-in-the-air" trajectory of the Irishman's missiles, the keeper frequently has to push through a forest of players to put a fist on the ball. "And Stoke are all big guys," notes Hahnemann.

As a regular gig-goer, who took his two children to see Metallica when they were nine and seven, Hahnemann is familiar with argy-bargy. When Five Finger Death Punch played Wolverhampton, he presented them with a goalkeeping top, emblazoned with a Remembrance Day poppy. It was worn as they performed the anthemic "No One Gets Left Behind", whose title is an American military maxim. Metal may not be the music of choice at Wolves. But in the struggle for safety, it is keeping one key player on his mettle.

Yanks for the memories

Marcus Hahnemann was invited to England in his mid-20s by current Newcastle goalkeeping coach Paul Barron, who was then working for Aston Villa, and trained with Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham. He was inspired by fellow Washington State native Kasey Keller, who played with Millwall, Leicester, Tottenham and Fulham, and later by Brad Friedel, of Liverpool, Blackburn and Villa fame. Like Hahnemann, Juergen Sommer and Ian Feuer are of German descent; Sommer was the first American keeper to play in the Premier League, with QPR in 1995, while the 6ft 7in Feuer remains the division's tallest-ever custodian, for West Ham, and now coaches LA Galaxy's keepers. Other US-born custodians to have sampled English football include Hahnemann's rivals for a World Cup place, Everton's Tim Howard and Friedel's Villa deputy, Brad Guzan, plus Tony Meola, Espen Baardsen (who played for Norway), Paul Rachubka and Mike Ammann.

Phil Shaw


FA Cup semi-final:

Portsmouth v Tottenham Hotspur (4pm, ITV1)

Avram Grant was Chelsea's manager when they lost the Carling Cup final to Tottenham, so he does at least know that underdogs can win on a nervy day at Wembley. But resting players on that occasion to prioritise the Champions' League must seem like another world.

Premier League

Blackburn Rovers v Manchester United (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

With only two home defeats this season, Blackburn are not a side to be underestimated and United rarely have an easy game there. Sir Alex Ferguson will need to have his team refreshed in body, spirit and personnel to achieve the necessary victory.

Liverpool v Fulham (3pm)

Fulham's 55th game of the season could be one of their most demanding, not least because Liverpool have their tails equally high up after their own impressive Europa League victory. Oh, and Fulham have never won at Anfield in 28 League and Cup visits.

Manchester City v Birmingham City (4pm, Sky Sports 1)

Not the most exciting game that Sky could have chosen to go head-to-head with ITV's semi-final, even if Birmingham are now obdurate opponents; more so than City encountered at Burnley last week.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Stoke City (12pm)

If Marcus Hahnemann (see above) switches off his death metal, he'll notice Stoke have had the upper hand over their near-neighbours in recent meetings and are so comfortably placed that their manager is inventing targets like beating last season's points total. That means only four more from half-a-dozen games, which should not be too demanding.

Steve Tongue