Knudsen hangs up his bobble hat

Perhaps the best-known face in Faroese football – or should that be bobble hat? – is quitting the game after keeper Jens Martin Knudsen retired at the age of 40.

Perhaps the best-known face in Faroese football (or should that be bobble hat?) is quitting the game after Jens Martin Knudsen retired at the age of 40.

Moment of fame
His trademark white headgear was the result of a concussion sustained at the age of 14, when as a compromise he was allowed to wear it in preference to a protective helmet. And it gained fame in 1990 when Knudsen shut out Austria to give the Faroe Islands a 1-0 EURO '92 qualifying win in their first-ever competitive fixture.

Bowing out
Knudsen eventually claimed his 65th and final cap of a more conventional kind against Poland last year – and bowed out for local club NSÍ Runavík on a high this season by helping to secure their first league title and being voted Faroese goalkeeper of 2007. "I could have continued playing as I'm still in good physical shape," Knudsen said. "But it's better to park the car in the garage while it still runs and is worth polishing, instead of driving it until it's completely worn out."

Originally forced to keep goal aged seven when playing with older boys, Knudsen was a natural and at 18 he was in the NSÍ senior team. In 1987 he had a brief spell in Denmark with Frederikshavn FL, but although he had the chance to play in England he chose to return to NSÍ. In 1992 Knudsen joined ambitious GÍ Gøta, assisting in four championship-winning campaigns between 1993 and 1996 as well as lifting two Faroese Cups.

In exile
Iceland's KS Leiftur took Knudsen on in 1998, reuniting him with Páll Gudlaugsson, who had coached the Faroe Islands against Austria. Knudsen was an instant hit, being named the club's Player of the Year as they reached the Icelandic Cup final, but in 2000 they were relegated. In the previous close season, Knudsen had been on loan at Ayr United FC in Scotland but a back injury scuppered hope of a contract and he again joined NSÍ.

Fame game
Of course, it is the Austria match on 12 September 1990, played in the Swedish town of Landskrona because the Faroes then lacked a suitable pitch, for which Knudsen will be remembered. Indeed, when Germany faced the Faroes for the first time in 2002, Torsten Frings said: "All I know about them is their coach is Danish and their goalkeeper wears a bobble hat." Two years later, Thierry Henry declared before France took them on: "The goalkeeper is the only one I recognise. I don't know him, just his cap." And when the Republic of Ireland visited Torshavn in 2005, away fans donned green bobble hats in Knudsen's honour.

Yet Knudsen had mulled over keeping the headgear before what turned out to be his big day. "After the game against Austria, we could have been the biggest fools in Europe," he said. "If we had lost 10-0, I would have been the biggest fool in the world." In fact, he was a versatile sportsman who also represented his country at handball and was a champion gymnast – a discipline Knudsen believed helped him with his agility, strength and fitness.

There is one final irony as the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw has brought the Faroe Islands and Austria together for the first time since EURO '92. That 1-0 loss 17 years ago cost Austria coach Josef Hickersberger his job, a position he regained in 2006. He will be pleased that his woolly-hatted nemesis will not be keeping goal this time.