Antti Niemi

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Antti Niemi is a former Finnish goalkeeper who was born Oulu, Finland on 31st May 1972. Niemi began his career at Finland's biggest club HJK Helsinki. The keeper helped HJK win the Finnish Championship in 1992, and also won international recognition for the first time that same year. Niemi moved to Danish outfit FC Copenhagen in 1995, and picked up a League Cup winners medal as well as a Danish Cup in a two year spell.

In July 1997 Niemi signed for Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. The former HJK stopper made his Gers debut on 23rd July 1997 in a 5-0 Champions League qualifying win over Gotu IF. Niemi spent most of his two and a half year spell at Ibrox on the bench behind Andy Gorman, and later Lionel Charbonnier and Stefan Klos. Niemi usually performed well the few times he was called upon however.

In December 1999 Niemi joined Hearts for £400,000. Over the next two and a half years, the ex Rangers man became one of the SPL's top shot stoppers and helped the Edinburgh club to a 3rd place finish in his first campaign. Niemi was subject to an amusing radio phone in call during his time at Tynecastle, which has since become an Internet classic. A caller phoned into a show on Talk Radio in 2000 and asked why the Hearts keeper wasn't being considered for selection for the Scottish national team. When the host explained Niemi was Finnish the caller replied "He's not finished, he's only 28".

On 23rd August 2002 Niemi signed for Southampton for £2,000,000. The Finnish international wasn't Gordon Strachan's first choice however. The Saints boss had wanted to bring in Croatian Stipe Pletikosa from Hajduk Split, but Chairman Rupert Lowe overruled him and brought Niemi instead. That's not to say Strachan wasn't a fan of the former Hearts star, having previously attempted to sign the Finn when he was at Coventry. Niemi was stuck on the bench in his first few weeks on the South Coast due to some good early season form from Paul Jones. He made his debut on 21st September 2002 in a 0-0 draw with Charlton, after Jones was dropped following a clanger one week earlier which gifted West Brom a 1-0 win. Niemi quickly established himself as one of the best shot stoppers in the land, and a firm favourite with the St Marys crowd. The Finnish international was particularly impressive in a 3-2 win over Arsenal on 23rd November 2002, when he pulled off an amazing triple save to stop Patrick Vieira from scoring for The Gunners late in the game. He helped Saints to an 8th place Premiership finish and an FA Cup final in his first campaign in England. On 15th March 2003 Niemi nearly scored a goal for the first time in his career, when he hit the bar after coming up for a last minute corner at Loftus Road against Fulham. Michael Svensson bundled the ball in seconds later to level the score at 2-2. Niemi became the first ever goalkeeper to be substituted in an FA Cup final on 17th May 2003, when he was forced off due to a calf injury in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.

Niemi's fine form continued into the 2003/04 season. By now he was attracting reported interest from the likes of Manchester United. The keeper remained at St Marys, and was part of the Southampton side that had one of the best defensive records in the league for most of the campaign (Until a poor run of form late on). Niemi saved a Michael Owen penalty in a 2-0 win over Liverpool on March 14th 2004, Paul Sturrock's first game as manager. The former Rangers man also pulled off one of the saves of the season in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in May 2004. Niemi was in and out of the side in Southampton's 2004/05 relegation season after suffering a spate of injuries. The blonde haired stopper was usually very reliable and rarely made mistakes when he did play, although he chose the worst possible moment to have his most terrible display between the sticks in a Saints shirt. On 24th April 2005 Niemi put in a dire display in a 4-1 defeat against South Coast rivals Portsmouth, in one of the darkest days in the clubs history. He was partially at fault for three of Pompey's goals, and gave away a penalty in the opening minutes.

Most assumed Niemi would leave Southampton in the summer of 2005 following the clubs relegation to the Championship, especially when the keeper missed a pre season friendly due to a dispute over unpaid image rights. Niemi returned for the first game of the season against Wolves however, and remained at the club after the August transfer window slammed shut. He recovered well from the Fratton debacle and was in sparkling form in the first half of the campaign. Niemi pulled off numerous world class saves in a 3-1 defeat at Norwich on 17th December 2005, which kept the score line down to a respectable number. He played his last game for the club on 2nd January 2006 in a 2-1 victory over Brighton.

On 10th January 2006 Niemi signed with Fulham. He enjoyed a reasonably successful two and a half year spell at Craven Cottage, although he was never too far away from the treatment table. Niemi was lucky to escape serial spinal damage after a collision with teammate Carlos Bocanegra in a 0-0 draw with Watford on 1st January 2007. The former Saints star returned in March 2007 and resumed his duties as The Cottagers number one. Niemi played his last game for the club on March 1st 2008 in a 3-0 home loss to Manchester United. On 3rd September 2008 he announced his retirement from football due to a wrist injury.

On 7th August 2009 Niemi came out of retirement to sign a one year deal for Portsmouth, linking up with his former Southampton goalkeeping coach David Coles. Despite only being signed as a fourth choice keeper, Niemi was reportedly paid £14,000 per week, costing the club £450,000. He didn't make a single appearance for the Fratton Park outfit, and only sat on the bench once, during a 4-0 Carling Cup win over Stoke on 27th October 2009.