Brutal Ray Parlour's hilarious prank left Martin Keown thinking he'd miss out on Invincibles medal, recalls Rami Shaaban | The Sun

RAY PARLOUR left Arsenal Invincibles team-mate Martin Keown sweating over whether he'd get a Premier League medal in a cruel prank.

The Gunners had wrapped up the 2003/04 title with a few games to go but some squad players needed to make it to ten appearances to get a medal.

And ticking into the final month of May Arsenal legend Keown was one of them.

The 56-year-old was coming towards the end of his career at Highbury with his contract due to expire in the summer, and he had only made six league appearances.

Keown needed to register at least a minute in Arsenal's final games against Birmingham, Portsmouth, Fulham and Leicester.

Knowing this, Parlour decided to set Keown's heart racing against Birmingham, pretending to warm-up with minutes to go which would've been Arsene Wenger's final substitution.


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Initially, Parlour and fellow Arsenal great Dennis Bergkamp tried to get back-up keeper Rami Shaaban to pull off the prank by saying something had happened to Jens Lehmann.

But such a move wouldn't have been realistic and so Parlour did it himself.

Parlour warmed up before stripping off ready for action, leaving the defender stone-faced.

Speaking to SunSport, Shaaban recalled: "I was on the bench. You know you have to play ten games to get a medal. 

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"Obviously, the Invincible season we won it maybe three or four games before the end.

"I was on the bench with Ray Parlour and Martin Keown. Ray Parlour is a funny guy… funny dude.

"We had made two substitutions. He [Wenger] always put on [Nwankwo] Kanu and Keown so they can get the 10 games, they needed these games to get the medal.

"Ray Parlour comes to me and says 'Rami, Rami, go and warm up'.

"I said 'No I can't', I'm a shy Swedish guy. I couldn't do it.

"So Ray warmed up and took off his jersey and you should've seen Martin's face.

"He hugged the boss, because he then played, but he was so scared he wouldn't get a medal.

"Bergkamp was in on it as well. He said 'Rami, come on go up'."

Keown's short cameos continued right the way through until the end of the season and he ended his Arsenal career on a high.

The 42-capped Englishman went on to play for Leicester and Reading before hanging up the boots in 2005 a three-time Prem winner.

Not so Merry Christmas

Over a year prior to the Invincible season, Keown played a part in Shaaban's December 2002 leg break.

Shaaban joined Arsenal, a club he supported growing up from when Anders Limpar wore the famous red and white colours, in the summer from Swedish side Djurgardens IF.

The Swede joined the Gunners as back-up to an ageing David Seaman and impressed in the five appearances he made before his horror leg break.

The incident occurred in a training match following the Gunners' 2-0 away loss to Manchester United in December.

Bergkamp tried to lob Shaaban, who tipped-toed backwards and pushed the ball onto the crossbar.

Shaaban, on his back, saw the ball bounce down and attempted to kick it. So did Martin Keown.

He said: "I was on my high when this happened. I played United away. I was on my way back to form and then we had a small game on the training ground.

"Me and Keown had a collision, it was nothing intentional, he was actually my defender when we played so it was a freak accident.

"I heard a very loud bang but I didn't realise it was my leg, I thought it was a shin pad.

"I didn't feel any pain, my leg just went numb. The players saw my leg wasn't how it should be, they all went pale. 

"I didn't feel pity for myself. I had surgery before Christmas. They took good care of me.

The incident took the stuffing out of Keown, who couldn't eat lunch later that day.

A number of Shaaban's team-mates also visited him in hospital, including captain Patrick Vieira.

Shaaban continued: "Martin Keown said he didn't eat lunch that day as he felt that bad. The players came to visit me in the hospital. Patrick the captain came.

"The guys in Hampstead gave me lifts to training to do my rehab."

Are shoe kidding?

Shaaban might have been a back-up goalie for most of his time in England, but his CV when it comes to players he has played with and against is hard to match.

Vieira, Bergkamp, Lehmann, Robert Pires, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Gilberto Silva, compatriot Freddie Ljunberg… the list goes on.

But arguably the best top dog Shaaban played with was the great Thierry Henry.

Shaaban watched on as the 1998 World Cup-winning Frenchman hit 71 goals between 2002-04.

But despite gushing with confidence on the pitch, Henry wasn't very sociable.

Shaaban would grab lunch and coffee with fellow Arsenal stars in Hampstead, where a lot of the squad lived at the time.

Henry wasn't present often, but he showed his kind nature when he randomly turned up at Shaaban's house with his mum to give him a pair of Nike shoes for son Gabriel.

Beaming, Shaaban said on Henry: "He was really nice, he was welcoming, he was very nice. We lived in the same area, Hampstead.

"He wasn't that social. For example, we had a coffee place in Hampstead that we used to sit in and have lunch or coffee.

"It was me, Freddie [Ljungberg] and Robert Pires often. Sometimes Patrick Vieira, he lived in Hampstead as well.

"Thierry wasn't that often there, but he was an amazing person.

"I remember he bought a pair of shoes for my oldest son, he's 20 now, but he was one when that happened.

"He knocked on the door and said 'Rami, I went to Nike Town, this is for Gabriel'.

"He was there with his mum. These small things are something you remember after 20-25 years.

"That shows what kind of a person he is. From nothing he comes to my house and says 'here, take this, I've been to Nike Town'."

Humble beginnings

Shaaban had experience playing football in Egypt but he made his big break in Sweden.

It was while playing for Djurgardens IF where Arsenal began to track the goalie.

The Gunners maintained interest despite Shaaban falling behind Andreas Isaksson, who was part of Sweden's 2002 World Cup squad.

Shaaban said: "It started when I was first choice goalkeeper for my team in Sweden, Djurgardens IF.

"And then we got promoted to the first division and they got another Swedish goalkeeper and he started to play the season and I was on the bench for a long time.

"He was in the World Cup squad in Japan as well.

"He came back, was a bit rusty because he didn't play, so the manager gave me the opportunity to start.

"It started with the derby against Hammarby, it's like Arsenal – Tottenham. Not as worldwide known but here in Sweden it's a massive game.

"I did well. I played a few more games and then my manager came to me and said 'Rami, there are a few teams that are interested in you'."

Shaaban then began thinking what teams in England it could be, and immediately ruled out a move to Old Trafford.

He continued: "I, of course, started to think who that might be. Manchester United just signed [Fabien] Barthez from France, I knew they were not interested. 

"The only one who could be replaced was David Seaman [at Arsenal]. He was getting older, like we all do. But he was much older than the other goalkeepers.

"Arsenal has always been my favourite team ever since Anders Limpar played there.

"So when the chief came and said 'Rami, It's Arsenal but we have to be very lowkey on this one as it will be on the news and everything', I said fine. 

"I was on my way home and he called me and said 'Rami, tomorrow you're leaving for two days to London, pack your bags'.

"And this was maybe the end of July, something like that. And I went there."

Expecting to be intimidated as a trialist, Shaaban was caught off guard by how welcoming the reception was.

His introduction to life in North London also included having dinner with newly-signed Silva, who had joined off the back of Brazil's 2002 World Cup win.

Shaaban said: "I didn't train with the team. It was only me and the goalkeepers. Seaman, Stuart Taylor and the coach Bob Wilson.

"But I was surprised how welcoming they were with me. I heard so many stories about trials and how they try to put you in place and everything, but it was the total opposite. 

"I then went to Sopwell House, that's where the players that arrive go. 

"Gilberto Silva came in the same summer and he was just a World Cup winner so it was a massive step for me football-wise.

"We had dinner together and everything, and it was a big thing for me. 

"Just a few weeks before I was sitting watching the World Cup on the couch and a few weeks after that I'm living in the same place [as Silva] and going together to the training ground.

Shaaban returned to Sweden with a good feeling the trial went well, but he was warned by Wenger not to get cup-tied in the Europa League.

It could have potentially ended Shaaban's hopes of living his boyhood dream.

Shaaban said: "Then I went back and met the boss [Arsene Wenger]. 

"He said 'Thank you for coming, we will let you know how it goes and our plans, but it's very important you are not cup tied [in Europe]'.

"Obviously I didn't play the first leg in Europe. Then the second leg came and we were leading and in the 85th minute my manager said, 'Rami, start to warm up'.

"I said 'what?'. Because then if I play Arsenal will not take me.

"And then he said 'I'm just kidding, sit down again'.

"Everything from that point went fast. I had a good feeling from the trial. 

"Then of course you know how it is. A small team when compared to Arsenal think they can make a lot of money. They're not stupid. 

"Arsenal's first offer was turned down, and I said to them 'Look I've been here two-and-a-half years, I've done everything by the book. This is once in a lifetime'.

"But at the same time I understand them as well. We were doing well and if something happened to the first choice goalkeeper then they would have to find someone else. So I understand both sides.

"But in the end, I think it was a few days before the window closed and they finalised everything. Done deal.

"I sat with David Dean, and he said 'This is what we can offer'. I said 'OK'.

"My CV is nothing… I only played for Djurgardens."

Derby debut

Shaaban had made his debut for Arsenal already in the Champions League against PSV Eindhoven.

But he had to wait until November for his Prem debut, which happened to be against North London rivals Tottenham.

Shaaban says he knew Arsenal would win when the two teams lined up in the tunnel before kick-off, and they did 3-0.

Henry scored the opener and his knee slide celebration would later become a statue outside the Gunners' new home, the Emirates..

Shaaban said: "David Seaman got injured and Arsene gave me the game.

"You're so focussed. You go there, it was a sunny day. It was the perfect build-up, everything was fine.

"I felt already in the tunnel the Tottenham players were… I wouldn't say shaking but it felt like we were ahead of them big time.

"The game started, we got the first goal. Confidence was so high. I knew we were going to win this.

"I realised, actually, when I was injured and we played Tottenham for a second time at Highbury, how much it means to all the people.

"You hear all the ladies in the stand say things that I don't want to say, but that's when you realise how big it is.

"When you're on the pitch you just focus on doing as good as possible. But, of course, everyone knows how big that game is for us, so a clean sheet… 3-0 win. It was extra special."

The birth of Rami Fresh

After leaving Arsenal in 2004, Shaaban went on to play for Brighton before seeing out his career in Scandinavia.

Shaaban also made a World Cup appearance for Sweden in 2006, playing in the group stage draw with Trinidad and Tobago.

He retired in 2012 and began searching for a new career path.

It had to be something which could link his Egyptian and Scandinavian roots.

And so the 47-year-old looked into the farming industry and started selling Egyptian sweet potatoes, and later grapes.

Rami Fresh now works with a massive supermarket in Sweden called ICA.

Shaaban said: "I had a friend in Egypt. I played football there before when I was 20 years old.

"I had a friend whose father owned the club. Rich guy, a very humble guy.

"So when I retired, after a few years, I wanted to do something that has collaboration with Egypt and Scandinavia.

"I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do but my friend said to me, 'Rami, my cousin has a farm, maybe that's something for you?'

"I was thinking, 'Yeah why not'. It's something healthy, something I can stand for and to bring something from Egypt to Sweden would be great.

"I started to do my research. I started to visit farms to learn the business. At first, I thought it was easy but it didn't turn out that way.

"It's all about certificates, it has to be environmentally friendly, it's a lot of steps from the farmers to the shop.

"I have great customers who believe in me. I know both cultures very well. 

"I have family in Egypt and they are helping me because you need to have someone there as well, and someone you trust.

"And then a massive supermarket in Sweden called ICA started with sweet potatoes… and they were very happy, the quality was very good."

Shaaban isn't interested in making "a few extra quid", he values delivering fair priced, good quality fruit and veg to the market.

And by doing that he's working around the clock, which involves a lot of travelling to source the best farmers in Egypt.

He continued: "I put very high standards on myself. I work seven days a week.

"But I'm privileged, It's something I want to do and if you love to do something you don't see it as hard work. 

"It was the same with football. You are so privileged to go to the training facilities so it's easy to enjoy what you do.

"Of course there will be times where you are tested and things aren't going your way but you work harder and it's the same in this business. I want to please my customers. 

"It's a lot of work on the ground, finding the best farmers for grapes and sweet potatoes, but the end result will be perfect when you do what you're supposed to do.

"I'm only doing a few things but I will do them really well. 

"For me, It's more rewarding that I can deliver good quality. 

"It's not important to make a few extra quid. It's more important that my customers get a good price and are happy with me.

"I know there will be tough times but it's how you react to it. You have tough games, it's how you react to it. I can have a bad week with sweet potatoes, it's how I react to it. 

"It's about learning the business, learning to meet people.

"If I have to lose money by shipping it the fast way then fine, but at least I deliver it to my customers."

Arsenal 'not title competitors'

Shaaban still keeps a close eye on Arsenal despite his busy life running Rami Fresh.

The Gunners are sat top of the Prem after ten games and are four points clear of champions Manchester City.

However, Shaaban is keen not to get ahead of himself and says Arsenal are 'not title competitors', but insists it will be possible in a few more years.

He said: "I'm humble. We have had good starts before, maybe not as good as this season, but we have to strengthen the squad. 

"We are not where Man City are, but give it a few years and you can compete.

"Winning on Sunday against Leeds… didn't perform well but still won.

"Aaron Ramsdale in goal is massive for us. We have the edge, we had great signings this summer.

"I think Mikel Arteta is doing a fantastic job. A lot of people doubted him in the beginning but he's getting there.

"I played with Edu, fantastic guy, they have a great thing going on but I wouldn't say title competitors yet. Top-four finish, yes.

"Jesus has been very important for the team. He takes a lot of pressure from the other guys and does it really well.

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"At my time at the club, if Thierry had a tough month we had players who'd step up and do the business.

"We need more like him. We're getting there."

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