Arsenal’s forgotten Invincible lifts the lid on untold tales of historic campaign

Arsenal’s 2003-04 team were dubbed the Invincibles after winning the title in 2003-04 unbeaten – and now, a forgotten team member has opened up his experience

Goalkeeper Graham Stack holds the Premier League trophy
Goalkeeper Graham Stack holds the Premier League trophy

When someone is asked to list the most influential members of Arsenal’s Invincibles team, Graham Stack is probably not the first name that comes to mind.

But the goalkeeper was present throughout the season, a true element of the squad, to absorb everything and collect some unforgettable memories for life. And no one can take that away from him.

Stack was called up by Arsene Wenger to the first team after his backup goalkeeper Stuart Taylor suffered an injury. At the time, he was just 22 years old and a relatively inexperienced player, but the chance to work alongside some of Arsenal’s legends was an experience he would never forget.

As Wenger’s invincibles achieved the unthinkable, going an entire 38-game unbeaten season, and 49 in total, Stack was there to witness it all from the sidelines. Jens Lehmann was always present in goal, meaning the youngster didn’t appear for a single minute in the Premier League. But after watching players like Sol Campbell, Roberts Pires and Thierry Henry every day in training, he lifted the lid on what it was like to compete alongside them – on and off the field.

“The quality was scary and the training was always competitive, it had that edge, but that’s why we had such a successful team,” Stack said. “It was a team of men, a team of leaders and there was a lot of experience in there, a lot of know-how. There were players there who played World Cups and won World Cups, captained their countries and played for the best teams in the world, so there would always be a difference of opinion as well.

“But I think that’s what made this team so good, the fact that it wasn’t just a team of average individual players who were happy and happy to be in the top four. They weren’t like that, they wanted to win absolutely everything, in every games they played. And that would be the case in training, it would be the case in a card game, if we played Uno or whatever on the bus. That was their mentality, and none of them in that group wanted to lose.”

Graham Stack poses with Jens Lehmann, also Arsenal champion goalkeeper

Having been part of the squad for the 2-2 draw with Tottenham, Stack was also present in the final day’s win over Leicester. And he talked about how the team felt a twinge of disappointment at not beating their arch-rivals despite winning the title with that result.

“It was good to get the result in the game, obviously to be champion, and to be undefeated too, but even then the work was not done because there were players who couldn’t relax or couldn’t go out and enjoy what they conquered because they still wanted more, which summed up the group”, he said. “They weren’t satisfied with being champions and winning at White Hart Lane, they had a few games ahead of them and they wanted to finish the job and remain undefeated.”

But for Stack, all those minutes on the bench paid off as players headed to the PFA Awards that season. With Arsenal sweeping the awards, the goalkeeper had his moment of glory as the audience cheered to receive a memorable ovation – and 18 years on from his birthday, it still lingers deliciously in Stack’s memory.

Arsenal celebrate Premier League undefeated victory over Leicester City

“I remember going to the PFA awards that night and we got a standing ovation when we walked in because we had so many players involved,” he recalled. “I think it was a little special even though I didn’t play on the day. Just being a part of it and coming in with such a large group was a nice feeling. I will always remember it was a special day.”

That was the best for the rookie goalkeeper after spending the next five seasons on loan at Millwall, Reading, Leeds and Wolves before joining the Royals on a permanent deal. Longer periods followed with Hibernian and Barnet, with a brief trip to India with Kerala Blasters and finally Eastleigh Town.

Now 40, Stack is the head goalkeeper at Watford’s academy – and if they’re lucky, the young Hornets he teaches may have the chance to hear more stories from this wonderful season.

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