Arsenal’s squad in 2003-04 was dubbed the Invincibles after winning the title in 2003-04 whilst going unbeaten – and now, one forgotten member of the squad has opened up on his experience
When someone is asked to list the most influential members of Arsenal’s Invincibles squad, Graham Stack is probably not the first name to come to mind.
But the goalkeeper was present for the entire season, a genuine member of the squad, to take it all in 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 squad after his reserve goalkeeper Stuart Taylor sustained an injury. At the time, he was only 22 and a relatively inexperienced stopper, 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 season without losing, and 49 in total for good measure, Stack was there to witness it all from the sidelines. Jens Lehmann was ever-present in goal, meaning the youngster did not appear for a single minute in the Premier League. But after observing the likes of Sol Campbell, Roberts Pires and Thierry Henry every day in training, he has lifted the lid on what it was like to compete alongside them — on and off the pitch.
“The quality was frightening and training was always competitive, it had that edge to it 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 in there that played in World Cups and won World Cups, captained their countries and played in the very best teams in the world so there was always going to be a difference of opinion as well.
“But I think that’s what made that team so great, the fact that it wasn’t just a team of average individual players that were content and happy to be in the top four. They weren’t like that, they wanted to win absolutely everything, in every game they played in. And that would be the case in training, that would be the case in a game of cards, whether we played Uno or whatever it would be on the bus. That was their mentality, and none of them in that group wanted to lose.”
Having been part of the squad for the title-winning 2-2 draw at Tottenham, Stack was also present for the final day victory over Leicester. And he spoke about how the squad felt a tinge of disappointment at not beating arch rivals, despite clinching the title with that result.
“It was nice to have got the result in the game, obviously become champions, and remain unbeaten as well, but even then the job wasn’t done because there were players who couldn’t quite relax or couldn’t quite go out and enjoy what they achieved because they still wanted more, which just summed up the group,” he said. “They weren’t content with being champions and winning at White Hart Lane, they had a few games to go and they wanted to finish the job off and remain unbeaten.”
But for Stack, all of those minutes on the bench were worth it when the players headed for the PFA Awards that season. With Arsenal sweeping the prizes, the goalkeeper got his moment of glory when the audience stood in applause as they received a memorable ovation — and 18 years on from its anniversary, it still sits delightfully in Stack’s memory.
“I remember going to the PFA awards that evening and we got a standing ovation when we walked in because we had so many players involved,” he recalled. “I think that was a bit special even though I hadn’t played on the day. Just to be part of it and walk in with such a great group was a nice feeling. I will always remember that being a special day.”
That was about as good as it got for the budding goalkeeper after spending the next five seasons out on loan with Millwall, Reading, Leeds and Wolves, before joining the Royals on a permanent deal. Longer spells with Hibernian and Barnet followed, with a brief trip to India with Kerala Blasters and finally Eastleigh Town.
Now 40, Stack is Watford’s head of academy goalkeeping — and if they’re lucky, the young Hornets he teaches may get their chance to hear more tales from that wondrous season.