The German Journeyman: Football’s Greatest Nomad


The career of German goalkeeper of Lutz Pfannenstiel is one of the most colourful that any player in the history of the game can lay claim to. To this day, Pfannenstiel is the only player, to our knowledge, to have turned down Bayern Munich in favour of Penang FA. When he retired in 2011, Pfannenstiel had played for 25 different clubs in all six FIFA Confederations, he remains the only man to have done so. Had he opted for Bayern at 20, he may well have had a more impressive list of honours, but he probably wouldn’t have ended up stealing a penguin in New Zealand, being jailed in Singapore or dying three times whilst playing for Bradford Park Avenue.

Pfannenstiel’s story starts in Bavaria. A promising young goalkeeper, he was capped for Germany at youth level and at 19, Bayern Munich were already sniffing around. When the German giants do come calling, few can resist their pulling power; but aged just 20, Pfannenstiel did just that, choosing the Malaysian Premier League instead and kick-starting his nomadic career which would take him to England, New Zealand, Singapore, America, Brazil, South Africa, Finland, Namibia, Armenia, Albania and more, before he hung up his gloves in 2011. In total, Pfannenstiel played in 15 different countries.

The German goalkeeper says he never had any intention to become such a globetrotter, but adds that he would not swap the career he has had for one of a more conventional route. His first major incident was being banged up in a Singaporean jail 6,000 miles from his native Germany, whilst playing for Geylang United. He was sentenced to five months in prison on account of a verbal agreement for match fixing. Bizarrely, the ruling was made on account of Pfannenstiel playing too well. In the three games in question, Geylang had won two and drawn one, with the goalkeeper named man of the match in one of them.

Pfannenstiel was released after 101 days with the evidence against him cleared. Prior to the incident, he had been a big star in Singapore. Modelling for Armani, presenting his own TV show and starring for one of the nation’s grandest sides, he describes the debacle as the time in which he learnt the most in life, and believes he came out of it a better person. However, it had unsettled him too much to remain in Singapore, and now 28, he was on the move once more. New Zealand became his new home and semi-professional side Dunedin Technical his new side.

His time in New Zealand was equally eventful. Robbed of his clothes, wallet and Playstation, Pfannenstiel found the burglar walking down the street, wearing his stolen goalkeeping shirt. Soon after, the German was almost deported on account of stealing a penguin from a local colony and keeping it in his bath. On this occasion the conviction was in fact true. It was on loan from Dunedin, that Pfannenstiel’s most notable incident occurred. In his third taste of English football, following spells at Nottingham Forest and the ‘Crazy Gang’ of Wimbledon, he joined Bradford Park Avenue.

In a game against Harrogate in December 2002, Pfannenstiel collided with Clayton Donaldson. Referee John Moss took decisive action to abandon the game, but even then, the severity of the situation was not yet known. His lungs collapsed and his nervous system shut down, causing him to stop breathing and being declared dead three times. The club’s physio managed to resuscitate the shot-stopper but he remained in a coma for a number of hours.

A week later, he was back in goal. Over the next ten years, he played for seventeen different clubs, making only a handful appearances for most. His last two seasons were spent in Namibia with Ramblers FC where he also worked as a goalkeeping coach for the Namibia national team. Retirement has failed to tame Pfannenstiel; in 2012 he spent a week locked in an igloo, which was filmed and broadcast live on the internet, in order to raise awareness for global warming. Later this year, he hopes to travel to the Amazon and spend a week living in the treetops, to raise awareness for the destruction of the world’s rainforests.

In 2009, the German founded ‘Global United FC’, a non-profit football club created to raise further awareness for global warming. Since then, the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lothar Matthaus, John Barnes and Cafu have all been recruited to the cause. Pfannenstiel has worked as a scout for Hoffenheim since 2011, the longest he has ever spent at a single club, he joked, “I’ve been here four years with no intention to move yet, it’s unheard of!”. Perhaps football’s greatest nomad has finally settled down.

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