Jermaine Pennant hid gang links from Arsenal to visit stabbed friend in hospital

Former Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant says he hid his gang links from the club when he visited a wounded friend in hospital, and also got caught up in a high-speed car chase during his time as a Gunner.

Pennant, who joined Arsenal as a 15-year-old, detailed his troubled upbringing in Nottingham in excerpts of his new autobiography "Mental." Having been involved in the Nottingham gang culture as a youth, Pennant said he once decided to visit a friend who was in a coma after being stabbed 15 times -- without telling Arsenal about it.

"My friends were all dead proud of me, making it from the Meadows to the Premier League, so his mum thought it might help if he heard my voice," Pennant wrote in the book, which is being serialised in the Daily Mirror. "I didn't dare tell Arsenal where I was going.

"It was horrible seeing him like that. I didn't know what to say, I just told him what I'd been up to. I wasn't there when he woke up, I was just glad he did."

Pennant joined Arsenal in 1999 and made his League Cup debut as a 16-year-old. However, he did not make his Premier League debut until 2002 and spent much of his time on loan after that before leaving the club in 2005, having made just 12 league appearances.

The winger, who also had stints for Liverpool and Stoke among others, said he had his own close call during his time at Arsenal when he was home visiting friends in Nottingham and was a passenger in a friend's car when another vehicle suddenly tried to force them off the road.

"It was like being trapped in a game of Grand Theft Auto. My friend was swerving left and right as the car behind was bumping into us," he wrote. "The two girls in the car with us were screaming. There were dents in the side of the car and the back bumper.

"In the end we managed to trick them by turning right into oncoming traffic at a junction. There was no other way out. ... It was the luckiest escape of my life. They clearly weren't trying to stop us to chat."