Cult Heroes: Mart Poom

by Kate Smith

A short but memorable stay on Wearside for stopper.

When Sunderland fans talk about former goalkeeper Mart Poom, they need use no other word than ‘Poominator’.

The stopper wrote his name in Wearside folklore after becoming the unlikely hero at Pride Park back in 2003, where he picked up that nickname.

A day that was already full of sentiment for the Estonian international became a day he would never forget, as he scored an amazing last-minute equaliser for Sunderland against his former club.

Sunderland were 1-0 down after Derby County snatched a 90th-minute lead, courtesy of Ian Taylor.

Deep into stoppage time, Poom was urged by boss Mick McCarthy to get forward and leave his goal as midfielder Sean Thornton prepared to take a corner.

He duly obliged and sprinted up the field, bursting into the box to meet Thornton’s set-piece with impeccable timing, out-jumping everyone to get his head to the ball and drive it past the Derby keeper.

Poom couldn't hide his delight as he darted back to his own goal chased by an ecstatic Marcus Stewart and Darren Williams.

The Black Cats stopper, a crowd favourite during his time at County, was given a huge ovation by both sets of fans on the final whistle seconds later.

The game against his former club came a little over four months after he made his Sunderland debut, a spell Poom would rather block out.

It was a forgettable start to his career on Wearside, including relegation and a struggle to break into the side with established keepers Thomas Sorensen and Jurgen Macho ahead of him.

However, that fateful day in September 2003 was somewhat of a turning point for both Poom and the team.

Following the draw at Pride Park, Sunderland lost only two of their next 14 league fixtures and Poom kept seven clean sheets in those games.

That run of form also sparked an FA Cup run that invigorated the club and red and white army alike, something that was much-needed after the previous campaign.

Poom was a key player en route to the FA Cup semi-final that eventually culminated in defeat to Millwall at Old Trafford.

Weeks later the congested fixture list caught up with Sunderland, who fell at the final hurdle of the Championship play-offs that season; despite  a sterling effort from the stopper, who saved  two penalties in the sudden death shoot-out that Crystal Palace edged 5-4.

The following campaign was a much brighter one for the club. McCarthy’s team were bolstered by the arrival of Stephen Elliott, Liam Lawrence, Dean Whitehead and Danny Collins, who each regularly found themselves on the score-sheet and the side clinched promotion and the Championship in style.

Injury restricted Poom’s appearances in the 2004-05 Championship winning campaign, however, the keeper still picked up a winners’ medal for his contribution – including six clean sheets in 11 games, a very satisfactory home win over Millwall and another draw with his old side Derby County.

That victory over Millwall would be Poom’s last ever game at the Stadium of Light and his penultimate game for Sunderland before he moved to Arsenal in August 2005, as cover for Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia.

The following season he became the first Estonian to receive a Champions League runners-up medal after Arsenal lost to Barcelona.

Poom didn’t make an appearance but as a member of Arsenal's 25-man European squad he was awarded a silver medal.

After making just one Premier League appearance for Arsenal, Poom moved to Watford in 2007. Another injury cut his career with the Hornets short and eventually forced him into retirement in 2009.

Wearside still has a place in the man from Tallin’s heart, not only is it the place that brewed the ‘Poominator’ beer in honour of him, but it’s also the home of the Foundation of Light, the football club’s official charity.

Poom still works very closely with the Foundation, bringing youngsters from Estonia to work with club coaches and enjoy the facilities of the Academy of Light.

The former stopper also enjoys the chance to catch up Sunderland fans when he returns to the north east and has admitted that he never tires of reminiscing about THAT goal with the red and white army.