Graham Stack’s Arsenal memories on selling fake Gucci clothes and more..
Graham Stack reminisces over selling fake clothes in the Arsenal car park and the first team wearing the same ‘Gucci' shoes to the Christmas party, crashing the team minibus and dicing with hyperthermia thanks to Ray Parlour and Franny Jeffers
Graham Stack exclusively told Ladbrokes Fanzone
I was flogging fake Gucci shoes and bags to all of the first team
I grew up in pubs in West London and it's fair to say we had quite a few characters who used to drink in our pubs. We had a number of football teams, darts teams, karaoke nights, it was a proper old fashioned blokes pub with the football and racing on and it was full of colourful characters.
One of them used to bring in some knock-off clothes, bags, wallets etc, and again, because I wasn't on a lot of money at the time I saw a bit of a gap in the market, so I started off buying four or five boxes of “Gucci” from him and within a week I'd sold it all, so I thought I may as well up my intake and fill the whole car up.
I went to the training ground with a boot full of “Gucci” gear, and I'm in the car park and all the youth team lads were coming out and before you know it some of the first team lads were coming over to see what all the fuss was about.
I just remember Liam Brady calling me over saying
“this isn't Camden Market, this is Arsenal Football Club, you can't be selling goods out of your boot in the club car park”. I got a bit of a telling off, but Liam knew what I was like and it was harmless really, I was just trying to earn a few extra quid.
To be fair to the lads, some of the first team boys, they weren't ones to go into town and start shopping but it was funny because we had a Christmas party at the Landmark Hotel in central London about three or four weeks later and all the lads had the same “Gucci” shoes on and all their partners has the same “Gucci” handbag, which was quite embarrassing for the lads because obviously they'd told the missus they'd been into the shop especially to buy it.
Needless to say a few of them got in trouble that night and a few truths came out.
Ray Parlour and Franny Jeffers nearly gave me hyperthermia
I was injured along with Ray Parlour and Franny Jeffers at the time and I had a bit of a reputation of being a bit silly but up for a laugh.
I got on well with the first team lads; I cleaned their boots and I trained with them a number of times and I was next door in the youth team physio room with John Halls and we were just messing about, so Ray and Franny came in and saw that I was icing my ankle in a big bucket and it just so happened that Ray threw something out there like “would you put your head in that?”
so I said “yeah but it depends how much for”.
Next thing Franny and Ray put some money on it and I had to keep my head in the bucket for a minute and obviously because I can't time it I told them to tap me on the side when it was up. I was definitely in there for over a minute needless to say.
Got a couple hundred pounds out of it, which at the time, was huge for a youth team player so I absolutely thought it was well worth it.
When I came out my lips were purple and my face was blue and Ray and Franny were just on the floor in stitches crying.
Gary Lewin comes in to see what all the laughter is about, and Gary's had a major panic up because he could see exactly what's gone on, so I just remember having these towels wrapped round my head to try and get some feeling back in my face.
Looking back it's not something I'd recommend a young player to do but at the time it was funny.
I crashed the team minibus but thankfully the lads kept it under wraps for me, I'd have no chance of that now
I was quite fortunate really because it didn't come out in the press at the time.
I was in the academy and a chap called Lawrence was our coach driver; I'd just passed my driving test and at the Arsenal training ground there was quite a long driveway, so I asked Lawrence if I could just drive the minibus down to the bottom of the drive.
Lawrence always used to hit the break if someone was standing up, but he'd do it gently enough that you'd rock forward but not fall over, i.e. just sit down, and he used to do it to me quite a bit.
So, he was standing up at the time next to me to see what I was doing and I picked up slightly more speed than I anticipated and didn't realise the weight of the coach and as we were getting half way down the drive I get up a bit more speed and thought I'd touch the breaks so Lawrence would jump forward, but obviously I hit the brakes slightly harder than I was expecting to and Lawrence has almost gone through the window screen.
He smashed the window screen and broke his glasses. It was a scary moment I've got to say!
I was worried for Lawrence anyway but also because he shouldn't have let me drive the bus, but we got it back to Highbury and got the new glass fitted and it wasn't really spoken about after that.
Everyone tried to keep it under wraps, but I think nowadays with phones I'd have had no chance of keeping that quiet, so I was quite fortunate back then that my teammates were willing to look after me and keep it nice and quiet.
Our youth team was full of characters and that's probably why we had the success that we did. We won back-to-back youth cups, and not only did we have a lot of talented players we had some great coaches who obviously helped us along the way, some big personalities and I would fear for us now if we were in the same youth team with the technology that we have at our hands now.
Winning the league at White Hart Lane will live in my memory for a long time
The atmosphere was toxic. We had a police escort to the stadium and we'd been hit by a number of missiles, the window was smashed at the back of the bus and even had surveillance operations taking place on the top of buildings, so it really was hostile.
Knowing what was at stake, as there was a lot on the line, you'd look around but some of the lads were just not fazed at all. For some of the senior pros it was just like a walk in the park.
They had this belief, and I've never seen it since, but you'd look round and think ‘wow, this is intimidating, this is going to be a tough game' but then around the changing room for some of the lads it was just like another game because they had so much belief and self-confidence, and ultimately belief in each other, despite what was going on outside it did not impact them.
It's quite remarkable really to go there, under the circumstances we did, knowing that against our rivals we could win the title at White Hart Lane, it wasn't added pressure, more of another carrot dangling that we could get at the end of the game.
We had the PFA awards that night in London and a number of our players were up for awards, so the success and the party just continued.
We had a table up at the front and we arrived a bit late and I remember walking in and the whole room gave us a standing ovation.
I was far from special compared to the lads in the team and who were up for the awards, but it was just incredible to be part of really and it still makes the hairs on my neck stand up. Winning the league at White hart Lane will live in my memory for a long, long, time.
My mum had t-shirts made up and brought two coach loads from the pub to watch my League Cup debut
My League Cup debut was almost like a dream come true really, I had all my family and friends there from school.
I think we brought two coach loads from the pub so the best part of 100 people there and my mum had t-shirts made up because it was such a big event for her.
For it to go as well as it did and for us to go through is just what made it such an amazing experience for me, and it's a day I'll never forget.
I try to tell my kids about it because they've only seen me play in my later years in the lower leagues and I wanted to show them that Daddy was actually alright and played in front of 30-40,000 people not just 800. I found the highlights and they were a bit blown away by it all to see Daddy score a penalty and save a penalty – it was amazing.
I knew I was never going to take over from Jens Lehmann, but I had an unbelievable relationship with him
At the time Jens Lehmann was one of, if not the best keepers in Europe so it was always going to be hard, if not impossible, for me to disrupt someone of his experience. I always knew that was the case, but I tried my hardest in training and I worked my socks off.
I played well when I was given opportunities in the cup, and I think I made a good case for myself to establish myself as the second-choice keeper that year.
I had an unbelievable relationship with Jens, he looked after me and looked out for me a lot and I was committed to making him look the best because I knew I wasn't going to take over but I still knew being his no.2 at Arsenal was still massive and a step in the right direction.
I did want to stay there as we were doing so well as a team and at the end of pre-season Arsene Wenger sat me down and said “look, I've been really impressed the way you've trained, and I believe in you, so moving forward you'll travel with the team every game and be involved with the first team”.
It was then up to me to stay there which meant I had to work even harder.
At the time you don't realise what an unbelievable group of players were involved, and you look back at games at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and San Siro and they're such fond memories.
You think it's going to last forever but as I know now it doesn't unfortunately, but you've got the memories to look back on and it was just such a pleasure to share the pitch with such greats.
Belgium was absolutely crazy
Belgium was crazy. It was mad. It was a crazy season.
Obviously, they were a feeder club for us, and we played them pre-season and I had agreed to join Beveran on loan. I had a conversation with Arsene prior to me leaving and we discussed my future at the club and the importance of me, not just playing games, but experiencing a different culture and a different style of play and playing first team football at the highest level possible.
There were opportunities to go to lower league clubs but to play against the likes of Bruges, Anderlecht and Standard Liege, to play in the Champions League and UEFA Cup, for a young player at 20 years of age was a huge opportunity for me.
It was an unbelievable year for me on the pitch, but it was a massive learning curve off of it as well, it came with a few hairy moments, of course, but being confronted by the hooligans as a young lad was such a massive event in my life.
I remember it all so clearly;
we'd scored late on and the atmosphere was red-hot, flares and everything in the away end, and it had a real derby atmosphere.
They were expected to beat us on the day, but it just so happened that we went 3-1 up late on and at that stage there was all sorts of missiles being thrown on the pitch and I was throwing them back off the pitch and I could tell that was riling their supporters.
I could see the gate with just one old guy steward sat on his own, and I thought
‘I'd have absolutely no chance if this gate comes clean through', and while the game was going on I saw the players just turn round and I thought they were looking at me but it was at the supporters behind me who were now coming on the pitch.
I think it was a natural instinct really to do what I did.
Because the game was still going on I didn't feel like I was in a position to leave the pitch, and I didn't want to leave so I stayed on the pitch and was obviously confronted by two hooligans who were worse for wear, so I just had to defend myself in fairness.
The game was called off because in the end riot police and horses, the lot, were on the pitch and I remember after the game – because it's a tiny little town – that it just blew up.
I was invited on talkshows, invited to dinner with Belgium's greatest ever goalkeeper and his family, people left boxing gloves outside the front of my flat – it was crazy.
Arsenal were very close to signing Yaya Toure
Obviously Kolo Toure was at Beveran very briefly previously and Yaya was only 16 when he was playing in the first team, and I remember playing away at Anderlecht and Bruges and Yaya was the standout player.
He's one of the best young players I've ever played with.
Cesc Fabregas would be the best, we made our debuts together against Rotherham in the League Cup, but Yaya would not be far away from Cesc at all.
For a 16-year-old to have the intelligence as a footballer and the technical ability which he had was quite remarkable for a young player and he was physically outstanding.
He was very close to signing for Arsenal and it's a shame he didn't. Yaya has gone on to achieve so much in football, which is something I always knew he would, because of his ability and his attitude and his application to train and to want to learn.
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