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Former Wolves stopper Marcus Hahnemann living life to the max at 50

There aren’t too many like Marcus Hahnemann.

COPYRIGHT EXPRESS & STAR - 12/03/2003 
PIC - GAVIN DICKSON. 
READING V WOLVES
Nathan Blake is beaten in the air by keeper, Marcus Hahnemann
COPYRIGHT EXPRESS & STAR - 12/03/2003 PIC - GAVIN DICKSON. READING V WOLVES Nathan Blake is beaten in the air by keeper, Marcus Hahnemann

I mean, goalkeepers are supposed to be lively and a tiny bit eccentric, aren’t they?

Hahnemann, though. The hugely affable American takes that to a whole new level.

The former Wolves gloveman celebrated his 50th birthday last week.

Whilst exchanging messages, he suggested a call at 9am, Seattle time, on his milestone birthday. Are you sure?

“Well, yeh,” he replied, as the conversation kicked off.

“I stayed with my parents last night in Seattle and had breakfast but now have an hour-and-a-half drive back to where we live now to play golf with my buddies.

“Then I’ll be catching up with family afterwards so it’s a perfect time to chat!”

And chat is the word. For over an hour-and-a-half. About pretty much anything and everything.

About his flying. Hahnemann now has a commercial pilot’s license and had just sent his passport over to his boss so he could fly five passengers in a De Havilland Beaver to Canada the following day.

About the bar and golf simulator he runs which had two local police officers as its first members and is the first step on the road to hopes of a major indoor top golf bar in the future.

About his family, wife Amanda and sons Hunter and Austin, both now setting off on their own journeys into adult life. The importance of spending time together, sharing interests and watching sport.

And about his football. His formative spell in America, landing his big break in England, the glory years with Reading, two seasons at Wolves.

Not to mention a short loan with Rochdale which he describes as ‘one of the best months of my life.’

The Marcus Hahnemann story. It will never, ever be dull.

Hahnemann played for Wolves across two seasons in the Premier League

He has not long paid a visit back to British soil, taking part in a 150th anniversary celebration game at Reading when the 2005/06 title-winning squad took on their 2011/12 counterparts, the full roll of honour including fellow Wolves alumni Ivar Ingimarsson, Stephen Hunt, Kevin Doyle, Graham Stack, Scott Golbourne, James Henry, Kaspars Gorkss and Jason Roberts.

He admits he wasn’t sure about heading over with Amanda having just started a new flying job and because: “those years seem so far from what I am now.”

And yet, when he returned, all the memories came flooding back. Happy memories of brilliant times. And so, he is really glad that he did.

“It feels such a long time ago and I’ve been out of the game apart from doing some media work so it felt like I was out of it all a little bit,” he explains.

“But when I made the trip? Wow, it was incredible.

“I couldn’t comprehend people still wanted to see all us old guys playing football again but they were so excited and over 10,000 came to the game.

“I had forgotten how much football means to the fans – there were people there who I had given shirts to, and they were telling me those shirts were still hanging up on their walls.

“It was a great reminder of just how important football is, and pretty humbling as well if I’m honest.”

If it was at Reading, prior to joining Wolves, that Hahnemann burst so emphatically onto the goalkeeping scene, plenty of hard work had gone into reaching that stage.

Growing up with a love of sport and competition, football began by turning out for his Dad’s team who needed a keeper – “I had no choice!”

Although his growing list of hobbies had to take a back seat – he couldn’t ski or go fishing on weekends for example – Hahnemann’s footballing talents were emerging rapidly both at school and then on a scholarship at Seattle Pacific University.

Three times an All-American thanks to his impressive performances between the sticks, winning the national championship when graduating in 1994, Hahnemann was also involved with helping at summer camps run by former West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal keeper, and then Aston Villa coach Paul Barron.

By now he was taking his football extremely seriously, working more in the gym, keeping himself in shape, focusing firmly on not so much an American dream but an English one, to make a living Across the Pond.

Part of the set-up of a new Seattle Sounders team playing in the A-league after graduation, Hahnemann helped the team to two championships in three seasons before moving up to the MLS (Major League Soccer), for two-and-a-half years with the Colorado Rapids.

As part of a German exchange programme, he had also spent a week’s training with Stuttgart reserves and with St Pauli, and, thanks to Barron, enjoyed several off-seasons training with Aston Villa and savouring a watching brief of Premier League life.

“I would go and stay on Paul’s sofa and eat all his food which he has reminded me of ever since,” Hahnemann explains.

“But training at Villa, with keepers like Mark Bosnich and David James, was an absolutely incredible experience.

“Both were very different as keepers and as personalities, and that made me realise that everyone can be different in their psychology and their approach.

“I would go and watch the games and remember when Manchester United came to Aston Villa.

“I was sitting in the stands and there was a fight between some fans right in front of me and I was just thinking, ‘this is the English game and it’s so awesome’.”

Hahnemann didn’t have to wait too long for his chance in England, joining Fulham in the Championship and striking up a friendship with keeper Maik Taylor, despite immediately telling him he wanted his place in the team.

“At the same time, I told him I would do everything I could to support him, and he was such a great keeper.

Getting out on the golf course

“I remember we had Chris Coleman who is one of the best central defenders I have ever seen and, however well I did in training, Maik was doing the business and the team did so well.”

Hahnemann made four appearances in the 2000/01 season, two in the league, as Fulham romped to the Championship title to secure a place in the Premier League.

“There I am, back home in the States that summer, thinking I am an injury or a suspension away from playing in the Premier League and achieving my dream,” he recalls.

“And I was watching Sky Sports to see that Fulham had signed Edwin van der Sar.

“’Well, that’s just great’, I thought, ‘Come on! Can we maybe go out and get Peter Schmeichel as well’?”

Despite slipping down the pecking order, Hahnemann’s ambition remained undimmed, and there are two examples which came next which underpin the attitude and unswerving determination which saw him ultimately fulfil that Premier League dream.

Namely a month in Rochdale, and then a reserve game at Motspur Park.

Rochdale first, as the 29-year-old Hahnemann was despatched for a stint in the equivalent of League Two.

“Oh my gosh – one of the best months of my life,” he says, with complete and utter seriousness.

“Absolutely incredible, I must have played about 20 games in that month.

“Every ball, every free kick, was just launched into the box and I was coming out getting smashed all the time – amazing.

“I had a really good time and would happily have stayed for longer but Rochdale and Fulham couldn’t agree a deal on wages.”

Hahnemann needn’t have worried.

Within six weeks he had launched what would be an incredible career at Reading, albeit via a lesson to all aspiring young footballers.

The lesson that there is always, always someone watching!

“I was back at Fulham, not even in the squad, frustrated, trying to figure out what was going on and it all just sucked,” Hahnemann explains.

“I was asked to play in a reserve game, I think it was a Monday night, at Motspur Park, and no one wants to play in those games, right?

“The goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton couldn’t get to the game, so he said he’d send along one of the young goalkeepers for the warm-up and for me that was cool, I got on with all those guys and tried to help them along.

“But then Gerry phones on the Monday morning to say that Maik has requested to play because he has a big Northern Ireland game coming up to prepare for and that I wouldn’t be needed after all.

“Well, I said I would still go and warm Maik up, I was already set to go and we were good buddies and I wanted to help him be ready for his big game.

“’Would you do that’? asked Gerry. ‘Well yeh,’ I replied. ‘I’d love to’.

“So, we got down there and did a great warm-up and after Maik had gone to the dressing room there were a lot of balls around the goalmouth, so I went in goal and the younger lads started taking some shots at me.

“At the end I asked the guys to go and take the bag and stand on the halfway line by the tunnel and I would side volley all the balls to them.

“Each one was pretty much perfect and they caught the balls easily and put them straight in the bag and then we all went in.

“I thought nothing more of it but, unbeknown to me, the Reading staff were all there because they had been told I was playing.

“When they arrived it was like, ‘why is Marcus doing the warm-up?’ but once they saw me save a couple of shots and hit a few kicks it was, ‘that’ll do, let’s go!’

“And that was the start of my Reading career!

“Maybe they might have signed me anyway, but effectively I got the loan move on the back of a warm-up at a Fulham reserve game!

“That is why I always say that to any young players, you never know who is watching, because that proved to be the start of an incredible few years.”

Didn’t it just.

By now, Hahnemann is about halfway through his journey and has stopped for gas, and some cigars and whisky for later. It is his 50th after all.

“You weren’t expecting a short interview, were you?” he laughs. Well, no, not really.

On we go, back to the footballing journey and, after being taken on permanently, seven incredible years at Reading.

From flying saves to flying planes, Hahnemann has his pilot’s licence

The first didn’t end brilliantly – play-off defeat against a certain Wolves – but it was in that memorable 2005/06 campaign three years later that the Royals blitzed the Championship with a record 106 points.

Eighth place followed in the Premier League, including 13 clean sheets, but although Hahnemann made the most saves in the division the following year, Reading were relegated.

A first season back at Championship level included a league double over champions Wolves, but ended with third place and subsequent play-off defeat, and that is where this particular chapter came to an end.

“Those few years with Reading and what we achieved, all on a relatively small budget, were amazing,” Hahnemann explains.

“We had a team of guys that nobody had heard of, but by the end there were some superstars.

“I think Alan Pardew got the ship rolling and then Steve Coppell took it on and that season of 106 points was incredible, especially as we lost the first game.

“I’ll be honest, we had our house in Pangbourne, the wonderful Lina Tandoori restaurant with a magnificent King Prawn Vindaloo, and I never thought we would leave – I thought I was going to become the Mayor of Reading.

“But at the end of that first season back in the Championship, when we were the team everyone else was gunning for, it all came to an end.

“We were all in the locker room and I was the first to go in and see (Director of Football) Nicky Hammond, and I suppose the big question for all of us was how bad it was going to be, how much our salaries were going to drop.

“But then I walked in and heard, ‘Marcus, we thank you for everything you have done with the club’ and I was like, ‘holy ****’, they are letting me go.

“It was a shock, I took a lot of pride in what we had all achieved and how I had worked with the other goalkeepers and a lot of the younger lads coming up went on to play a lot of games.

“I was a bit blown away with it all and I went back to the locker room where people like Doyler and Hunty were waiting and when I told Hunty he completely lost his mind!

“It was then that we all knew, that group of guys who had achieved so much together? The band was about to be split up.”

Hahnemann retreated to his cabin out in Eastern Washington, wondering just what might happen next, pondering his next move.

He had just turned 37-years-old, was this the end of his English adventure?

In a word? No.

“I can picture it now, sitting on our back porch looking over the river and I got a call from Mick McCarthy,” Hahnemann recalls.

“We had a good chat and he told me he had two very good young keepers in Wayne Hennessey and Carl Ikeme, and Matt Murray who was coming back from injury, but wanted someone with experience to help them all along.

“Kasey Keller is a good friend of mine who had played with Mick at Millwall and said he was a little bit crazy and that was perfect for me, right up my alley.

“I knew this was going to be good!”

If his experience, personality and ability was being utilised to support those talented young keepers, it wasn’t long before his services were more extensively required and Hahnemann was called from dugout to pitch.

After conceding four goals against Arsenal and Chelsea, McCarthy sent for his American Flyer!

“Wayne is a great keeper but the team had been on a tough run and Mick just said he was going to take him out of the firing line,” Hahnemann explains.

“I came in and it was like, ‘oh ****’, because we started winning a few games.

“Whether it was just dumb luck for Wayne, or he needed more games to find his feet, who knows, but sometimes football is like that and he has gone on to do really well.

“I loved the goalkeeper’s union at Wolves – Matt Murray is an amazing dude I played against a few times, Wayne and Carl were great to work with, Pat (Mountain) is a great coach.

“Man, I loved my time there, especially the local rivalries.

“Wolves and Reading had built up a bit of a rivalry over the years but playing against Villa and particularly Birmingham was so intense and what football is all about.

“My landlord was a West Bromwich Albion fan and he didn’t even want to rent to me at first – but we got on famously in the end!

“It was an incredible group of players and we actually finished that first season really well.”

Hahnemann also started that second Wolves season before Hennessey was recalled, but there were many highlights from his 44 appearances which is probably a higher figure than he might have anticipated.

A clean sheet in a memorable 1-0 win at Tottenham, after which he was the only player to keep his place as McCarthy controversially shuffled his pack for the following game at Manchester United, another vital three points in the capital at West Ham later that season, beating Manchester City the year after.

With wife Amanda on his birthday

His initial one-year contract had been extended, but there was no new deal at its conclusion, and, while he exited stage left with many happy memories, Hahnemann could already see the success of the McCarthy years starting to unravel.

“I think what screws up so many teams in football and what screwed it up at both Reading and Wolves was money,” he declares.

“At Reading I remember Steve Sidwell going off to Chelsea on an amazing deal and while he fully deserved that the players left behind were then thinking they should be on that too.

“And at Wolves players came in on bigger wages who turned out to be no better than what we actually had and it started to destroy the spirit that had been so good.

“We also started trying to play out from the back which is suicide soccer when teams are pressing you but I suppose hindsight is a wonderful thing – I really should have bought more Tesla stock when I had the chance!

“Money was never my main motivation and I know that was the same for a lot of the guys but somehow it always seems to screw things up and I think that’s what happened.

“It doesn’t take away the fun I had at Wolves though and the great interactions with the fans, although obviously there were some bad ones too.

“When you suck, they feel it too and they let you know about it but it was that feeling of not wanting to disappoint them that drove me on.”

The Molineux faithful certainly took to Hahnemann – the chants of ‘USA’ echoing around the stadium when he made a save or came to claim a cross.

And while he went on to join Everton, appearing only as an unused substitute, before rounding off his career back home with the Sounders, Wolves left a legacy for the keeper beyond that of just football.

It was whilst with the club that Hahnemann pressed ahead with his long-held love of flying, which at one point had seen him take a pre-placement test for piloting helicopters for the Marines.

“I always wanted to fly but what pushed me again was that one of my buddies lives on Vancouver Island which is an eight or nine-hour drive away,” says Hahnemann.

“When I only had a pre-season of two weeks, we decided to charter a plane, and when you have to pay for that, both ways, plus the pilot, it gets quite expensive.

“So, I started to think about flying a plane myself.

“I came back to Wolves, found Halfpenny Green Airport not far from where we were living, and after one lesson I absolutely loved it.

“I carried on doing the lessons, reading all the textbooks, studying, and eventually got my license.

“It gave me something else to focus on, away from being in the pressurised position of being a goalkeeper in the Premier League.

“And then, after getting home I bought a Cessna, got my float rating because we have a lot of water around here, got my instrument rating and a commercial license so now I can fly passengers.

“My final training got held up a bit with Covid but now I am working for Northwest Seaplanes, piloting planes which can hold up to six people.

“I can still remember getting my first pay cheque for 300 dollars, I was so excited.

“I couldn’t believe I just got paid to go flying and am so lucky to have another dream job after playing football.”

Flying planes for a living adds a touch of delicious irony to an April Fool during his time at Wolves when it was suggested Hahnemann was piloting the team to the away game at Newcastle, which BBC WM’s Daz Hale either fell for - or played along with - on his morning show!

So too the Wolves mascot at St James’s Park who asked how the flight had gone.

That dream job is just one of many assignments now in the Hahnemann portfolio, including the bar in Cle Elum complete with golf simulator, old school video games and table tennis, television punditry duties on Seattle Sounders games, and, oh yes, he also officiates at weddings.

Having presided over several ceremonies for friends and work colleagues most recently he did the honours as a proud Uncle for niece Ashley as she married Jake.

Family is hugely important, both in keeping in regular touch with his parents – as on his birthday - and leisure time with wife Amanda and their boys including plenty of ski-ing, snowboarding, golf and watching sport.

And then there is still the music, the heaviest of heavy rock, with Hahnemann only last week attending a Slipknot gig with Keller in Seattle.

“It was absolutely insane,” he reflects wistfully. No wonder he enjoyed it!

He also spruces up old cars and rebuilds engines, we forgot that bit. And apparently used to refrain from diving in training until 11am, just to make sure he was fully warmed up.

Hahnemann has now reached his destination, picked up his golf clubs and the course awaits. Even an hour-and-a-half probably hasn’t been enough time to cover everything – he is that kind of guy.

One who took football seriously, but never too seriously, and has always aimed to fill every second of spare time with something constructive, something fun, and, now and again, something dangerous.

Even after turning 50, none of that is ever going to change.

An endearing and enduring memory of his time at Wolves was when leaving the Compton training ground on a snow-filled day, his army-style jeep was one of the many players’ cars playfully peppered with snowballs from over the fence by students from St Edmund’s School.

Everyone else smiled and drove on. Not Hahnemann. He screeched to a halt, jumped out and immediately engaged in all-our snow warfare. One against 100. The odds didn't matter.

Marcus Hahnemann, putting the fun into football. And the life into life.

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