Once you consider Arsenal’s well-known Invincibles classic, you’ll be forgiven if you happen to forgot the identify Graham Stack.
Stack was the understudy to Jens Lehmann in Arsene Wenger ’s legendary squad. The goalkeeper made 5 appearances in the course of the 2003/04 marketing campaign, all of which got here within the crew’s run to the semi-finals of the League Cup.
For a participant who got here via the Arsenal academy and was proper initially of his profession, it was nonetheless fairly the achievement. And, based on the person himself, he owes his half in that success to a violent incident in Belgium the yr earlier than.
It’s fairly the story – one thing that Stack has develop into well-known for – and begins when he was despatched on mortgage by Wenger to Beveren for the 2002/03 season. He was simply 20 years outdated and nonetheless with out a senior look to his identify when he left for Beveren, which is near Antwerp within the north of the nation.
It was an opportunity to get common sport time and mature as a participant and an individual. Stack says that’s precisely what occurred in Belgium – however not maybe not within the method you would possibly count on.
Stack made 30 appearances for Beveren that season, however solely made headlines because of his actions in a sport in opposition to rivals Royal Antwerp. Beveren had been profitable the match 3-1 within the dying minutes of the second half when all hell broke unfastened in what he later described as a “loopy, loopy day”.
Arsenal FC through Getty Pictures)
Stack says he was being pelted with “bottles, stones, cash, lighters” all through the sport by rival followers. He determined to throw one object again into the Antwerp followers – a call which backfired and provoked a response. Offended followers managed to get previous a giant metal fence and onto the pitch.
Talking on The Broken Metatarsal podcast final yr, Stack defined what occurred subsequent. “Earlier than it, the ball’s on the different finish, I’ve turned spherical and there are folks marching in direction of me,” he mentioned. “I’m pondering, ‘What have I performed right here, the place’s this going?’
“This huge fella has obtained to be 6ft 4in, carrying a giant leather-based jacket, and he’s come charging in direction of me, swearing at me. I’m pondering, ‘Ought to I simply run off and save myself or do I attempt to confront this lunatic and stand my floor?’ Your instincts kick in and I made a decision to entrance it, however then one other one comes on and I’m pondering, ‘I’m outnumbered, I’m up in opposition to it right here.’
“Truly, the massive fella after giving it the massive ‘un now not wished to confront me, however this fella who’d had far too many beers got here steaming in and beginning throwing digs.
“Naturally you swing one again, and naturally you drop him on the ground. Then the subsequent huge one didn’t actually fancy it and so they all began strolling again. This occurred in a number of moments, however earlier than it there’s riot police out and the sport’s getting known as off.”
EMPICS Sports activities Picture Company)
Having initially been on a quiet mortgage spell away from the glare within the relative backwater of Belgium, Stack was now headline information. Reasonably than being fully adverse, the eye labored in his favour, with scouts and brokers out of the blue conscious of his existence.
He returned to Arsenal in the summertime of 2003 and took his place on the bench for the best season within the membership’s historical past. Stack stayed at Arsenal till 2006, spending time on mortgage with Millwall and Studying earlier than occurring to have a journeyman profession.
Twenty years on from his Belgian punch-up, Stack is now 41 and is the goalkeeping coach at Cardiff Metropolis. It’s fairly the profession trajectory.