Friday, 31 May 2013

Graham Stack

2002 - 03 : Beveren (Belgium)

Graham Stack is an English-born goalkeeper who played for 10 clubs between 2000 and 2013. Born in London in 1981, he began as a trainee with Arsenal. He spent six years with the Gunners but only featured in the League Cup making 5 appearances. Leaving them in 2006, he went from Reading to Barnet, via Plymouth and Hibernian. 

As he is London born-and-bred, you may wonder why Stack makes it to the Wild Geese list. 

"You can hear me," he once said. "I am definitely not from Dublin. I am a London boy and was brought up here.

"But my mum was born in Glenamaddy in Galway, so was my Nan and Grandad plus half a dozen of my aunties and uncles.

"I made a decision at 16 or 17 to play for Ireland and it has been a great privilege to play for a great country. The people are so passionate about their football. I have not looked back."

Prior to joining Hibs in 2009, most of Stack's game time had been restricted to loan spells while with his various parent clubs. One of these spells occurred during the 2002-03 season while he was with Arsenal, when he spent the season with Belgian club K.S.K. Beveren.

Beveren hail from East Flanders, and were founded in 1934. Little Anderlecht, as they are known, are two time winners of Belgium's League and Cup. When at home, they have played at the 12900 capacity Freethiel Stadion since 1938.

Stack showed an adventurous zeal in choosing to join the Belgians, a quality rare in British/Irish players. "I could have gone out to a number of English clubs in pre-season but that was the easy option," he said at the time.

"I have a chance now to play 30 First Division games in Belgium with all the pressure and all the attention that first-team football brings.

"The fact I have had to cope with living away from my family and girlfriend in a foreign country will help me as well.

"This year at Beveren will set me up for the rest of my career

He arrived with fellow Arsenal loanees John Halls and Steve Sidwell, although the latter would only last a few weeks in the country.

That season, Beveren were playing the Championnat de Belgique (today known as the Pro-League), Belgium's top division. Under coach Herman Helleputte, they had a decent squad. Two players of note were a young Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. Eboue would later be permanently signed by Arsenal, the only player to do so during the two club's partnership. Toure would go on to play for Barcelona and Manchester City.

Stack made his league debut on August 10th. At home to RAEC Mons, the 20 year old kept a clean sheet as Beveren won 3-0. He also kept goal later in the season, in a record 6-1 home win over KV Mechelen. However, some awful results came his way too. These included 7-1 and 7-2 defeats to giants Anderlecht and Club Brugge respectively. He was also one of two Beveren players sent off in May, during a 0-3 home loss to Gent.

Generally he put in a series of fine performances which impressed the Arsenal scouts. Yet Stack is best remembered in Belgium for a November incident in the derby with Antwerp. After two opposing fans invaded the pitch and attacked him, the Irishman responded by dealing one of them a hefty slap, knocking him down. The clip became a Eurosport hit in the pre-youtube days, earning him continental renown and a place in Beveren folklore.

Stack battles two Antwerp fans

"Everyone seems to have seen it at this stage," admitted Stack.

"My mum and dad are living down in Spain at the moment and I think they nearly fell off the couch when they saw it on Eurosport.

"It did get a lot of attention, but thankfully people are also t
alking about my football here as well. We've kept three clean sheets in the last five games now so that can't be bad."  Little Anderlecht won the game 3-1.

While at the club Stack won the first of his 7 under-21 caps for the Republic of Ireland under Don Givens

Beveren finished in 11th, one place above rivals Antwerp. In the Cup, they had been put out in the last 16 by K.Bochotler V.V. Stack made 24 first team appearances, and all-in-all the first team experience was a valuable gain.

This wasn't enough to impress Arsene Wenger at Higbury however, and Stack was sent on further loans to Millwall and Reading, without ever really settling. He became a journeyman goalkeeper before joining Hibernian.

Today, he plays for non-league club Barnet.

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