Reading's Hahnemann still keeping it real

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READING, England – Marcus Hahnemann's fascination with motors and machinery led him to recently soar into the London skies at the controls of a helicopter. And as he ascended to a height of several hundred feet, it was perhaps the only time Reading's American goalkeeper could have legitimately been accused of being anything other than down to earth.

In an era when many of the cash-laden stars of the English Premier League favor diamond-encrusted watches, thousand-dollar bottles of champagne and, in many alarming cases, miscreant behavior, the Seattle native's pursuit of a normal existence makes him the exception rather than the rule in top-flight U.K. soccer circles.

When Hahnemann welcomed Yahoo! Sports into his house in the picturesque Berkshire village of Pangbourne on Tuesday, he did so with a cup of tea – and a refreshing lack of big-time attitude – while wearing a fishing shirt. Three days earlier, he told journalists how he planned to quietly celebrate Reading's first victory in eight games with a glass of Jim Beam bourbon, and his young family, rather than a night on the town.

Monday brought a gruelling running session, a visit to a local school to hand out awards to children and then a trip to the famed Brixton Academy with Fulham's U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller to watch a live performance from Korn. While the early part of each week can take the form of a whirlwind of various activities, the lead-up to Saturday's home game against Manchester City will be all business.

On Friday, Hahnemann will start getting into game mode, a ritual the 35-year-old believes puts him into the ultimate mental state to perform at his peak.

"The routines are so important," he said. "At home, we always have chicken fajitas the night before, then I play 'Halo' on the Xbox with some buddies online. You shut yourself in the room and get away from everything."

Gameday morning means coffee and a spell in the hot tub to loosen up his back, followed by scrambled eggs and his regular pre-match meal of a tuna fish sandwich.

"As soon as I get in the car, it really starts," he added. "I'll be listening to Slipknot or Tool, something really hard and in your face to get you pumped up."

Once he arrives at the stadium, Hahnemann starts cracking into his cans of Red Bull to get him suitably pumped up, drinking two before the game and one in each half. However, his penchant for the energy drink recently caused an amusing – although sleep-depriving – mix-up.

Since Red Bull is not an official Premier League sponsor, Hahnemann was asked to drink it from water bottles rather than the can, but a problem arose when a club assistant filled up a bottle with triple his normal dosage during a match. The result was one extremely hyperactive goalkeeper.

Hahnemann's commitment to his trade is possibly a by-product of the way he had to fight for his right to perform at the top level of the English game following years of frustration.

After arriving at Fulham in 1999 with eyes wide and expectations high, the former Seattle Sounders and Colorado Rapids keeper was installed as second choice and restricted to just four first-team appearances over three years. Salvation and rejuvenation came with a loan move to Rochdale, in the fourth and bottom tier of the Football League, and one of the most unglamorous soccer locations in England.

But Hahnemann loved it. He relished the chance to get his hands dirty in real match action instead of soul-destroying reserve games at Fulham. The month at Rochdale got him back on track before a subsequent loan move to Reading coincided with a superb run and led to a permanent contract.

Now six years and 234 games later, Hahnemann is firmly established in the Premiership goalkeepers union, although things have got tougher in 2007-08.

After a remarkable run last season that produced an eighth-place finish for Reading following gloomy critics' predictions of an instant return to the Championship, manager Steve Coppell and his players can no longer rely on the factor of surprise. There is an urgent need for a revival if a late-season scrap for survival is to be averted.

Hahnemann is an optimist, and he believes that last weekend's victory in the murky north-east surroundings of Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium could serve as the catalyst.

"To get the first win in eight games was so huge," he admitted. "After two months without winning, it seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel. People stop calling you, they don't know what to say, and people in town are a bit different."

By playing 20 games this season, Hahnemann was automatically awarded a new contract to take him up to the end of next season. And from there?

"Who knows," he said. "I could be up in my cabin in Washington, going snowmobiling. I could be coaching – although I don't think I'm ready for that. I think I have got about three years left."

What about Major League Soccer, especially with a new Seattle franchise joining the league in 2009?

"It would be nice," he said. "The Seattle thing is interesting – Kasey Keller (also from the Pacific Northwest) and I could be fighting over who is going back.

"But for now I don't want to think about it too much. The Premiership is a big enough thing to occupy most of my thoughts."