To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years.
Estonia chose Mart Poom as their Golden Player.
Mart Poom is Mr Popular. A fans' favourite at his former English club, Derby County FC, he won the hearts of Sunderland AFC supporters too but remains most esteemed in Estonia where he earned six Player of the Year awards not to mention 119 international caps. No wonder the Estonian Football Association (EJL) elected him as its Golden Player.
Poom started out with the famous Lõvid Tallinn youth team but came to prominence with FC Flora Tallinn. After spells in Finland and Switzerland – with KuPS Kuopio and FC Wil 1900 – Portsmouth FC took him to England in 1994. He returned to Flora for a year, but in March 1997 joined Derby and duly established himself in English football where he would spend the remainder of his career, making 230 league appearances.
Perhaps the turning point in Poom's journey was the replayed FIFA World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Monaco in February 1997. The Estonia No1 kept a clean sheet despite furious Scottish pressure. Suitably impressed, Derby manager Jim Smith moved quickly to sign him. "The game against Scotland remains one of the most important milestones in my career, as it helped me get to the English Premiership," Poom said.
Poom moved to Sunderland in November 2002, first on loan before sealing a €3.7m transfer two months later. Though the club were relegated, Poom started as first choice in 2003/04 and kept 16 clean sheets in the English second tier that term. He also scored a last-minute equaliser against his old club Derby at Pride Park on 20 September, sending a powerful header into the net from a corner.
The Sunderland manager at the time, Mick McCarthy, said: "I've not experienced anything like that. It's the only thing he doesn't practise. I thought I was good in the air but I've never headed one like that. I had to wave Poomy up because he was reluctant to go, but it was an absolutely unbelievable goal."
The goal inspired one local brewery to produce a special-edition beer called Poominator Ale. "I don't drink beer, but it was a nice gesture and meant I had some presents for my friends," said Poom. "This game will always remain in my heart as a very special one. Not only because of the goal, but also because it was back at Derby. The fans at Pride Park were so good to me when I played there, and it was very touching how they greeted me, even though I had just scored against them."
In August 2005 he joined Arsenal FC on loan and in January 2006 the move was made permanent, though Poom made only one league appearance, keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at Portsmouth. He then moved on to Watford FC where he had his last 19 outings in English football before hanging up his gloves in 2009, aged 37.
Poom's contribution wherever he went extended beyond the field of play. He was famous for his positive, professional attitude, spending long hours on the training ground and always making the point of communicating with supporters. "I always answer fan mail - I believe this is the least I can do," he once said.
Yet despite that commitment to football, he also said: "Family is the most important thing in my life – they have been a great support for me and helped me relax away from the pressures of professional football." His wife Lissel and sons Markus and Andreas now have more time to spend with Poom, though he remains actively involved in the game as goalkeeping coach for the Estonia national team as well as sports director at his old club Flora, a role he assumed in September 2010.
Last updated: 26 January 2011
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