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ARCHIVES: DENNIS & THIERRY

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ARCHIVES: DENNIS & THIERRY

This is a little (BIG) piece I wrote for MUNDIAL magazine in 2018. It’s the first paywalled words drop. This was an important piece of work for me. I loved Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, but the key emotional tie with this piece was all of the experiences were with my dad. I think the photo in the piece was me and him. Geoff, who used to write for Le Grove in case you were wondering. Final piece of housekeeping. This was penned 7 years ago, I’m not going to post-modernise anything, it’s part of history. Don’t cancel me if you don’t like something. xxx

Tell us how old you were when Arsenal signed Bergkamp and when you - or a family member - realised you had signed a special player (taking into account that people thought he was finished)

My earliest memory of football was from 1987, my dad took me to Highbury to watch Arsenal play Derby. I was a three-year-old; I only remember the game because back then, kids didn't get ear protectors, so the first time you hear 35,000 adults scream is quite the shock, we won the game 2-1.

The hook on Arsenal wasn't quite instant, mostly down to kit tastes. I vaguely remember toying with Nottingham Forest as an option. This idea received short shrift from my dad, who, through not-so-subtle threats of extreme Christmas sanctions, made it clear that Arsenal was the only team he’d accept in his house. Not the worst forced choice, and certainly better than Nottingham Forest.

Football only became a thing I truly embraced in the early nineties, to be more precise, after we stopped winning league titles and when George Graham embarked on a less expansive worldview of how the game should be played. Still, I was able to bond with my dad, I learnt bad language from the elders, I saw George Graham win a cup double (92-93), and I remember watching us beat a star-studded Parma in the Cup Winners Cup (1994), against all the odds.

The negative part of being an Arsenal fan? I vividly remember being relentlessly jibed because the religion I had been indoctrinated into was 'boring, boring, Arsenal.'

There were fleeting moments of respite, like when the club signed a deal with American kit maker Nike in 1994. We had hooped socks and a sexy lightning strike running through our shirt. However, a kit does not make a team, and it didn’t take long for the piss-taking levels to go stratospheric when we lost to Zaragoza in the CWC final the following season to a speculative 40-yard lob from ex-Spurs player, Nayim. Totally devastating, David Seaman ruined my summer. My team were shit. Everything was shit.

However, unbeknownst to many a season ticket holders that hurled their red book (season ticket) at the Paris pitch, David Dein had a little plan. 1 day before my 11th birthday, Arsenal unveiled Dennis Bergkamp as their new star man. Even at that age, I was perfectly aware of the magnitude of the signing. 

This guy played for Inter Milan back when watching Italian football carried more playground cache than a deck of Panini shinies. To land a superstar for an eye-watering £7.5m, a momentary British transfer record, at a club famed for being ‘boring, boring Arsenal’, felt like an absolute moment to cherish. My dad would usually bring me home an Evening Standard so I could scour the back-pages for little dopamine hits of transfer rumours, that day, he brought back the whole paper shop.

Things obviously didn’t start that well, Bergkamp hadn't managed a goal in 7 games. Alan Sugar went on record saying,“If Bergkamp thinks he’s gonna set the world alight he can forget it. When the fog, ice and cold arrive, he won’t want to know." I wondered, had we signed a dud? It wasn't even foggy yet!

Luckily, I was assured by those around me he was the real deal. I can remember my dad telling me Bergkamp was special, the way he’d control the ball, the space he could find, the different levels to his game mere mortals didn't possess. When the first goal did eventually land, it was worth the wait. Glen Helder, the original Dutch superstar, used his electric pace to burn down Southampton's left at a packed Highbury. He picked out Dennis lurking in the box about 8 yards out at the back post, the striker watched the ball with his trademark concentration and coolly drilled a low volley across Dave Beasant with his right foot. An electric moment.

Describe how it was to watch him playing for Arsenal in those early years before Henry joined him. Did you ever spend games just watching him, how he moved etc?

I was very young at the time, but it was spectacular heading down to Highbury knowing you were about to watch an actual 'world-class' talent in the flesh. The season before, I was losing my mind over the sublime last-ditch offerings of George Graham. I was all about John Hartson, Glenn Helder and Chris Kiwomya, but now I was watching one of the most technically gifted players of a generation showboat against QPR. The Premier League really didn't deal with players like that back then, it was embarrassing how poor the standard of the league was compared to him. With this single purchase, Arsenal had moved their ambitions to the next level, even though, if the fans were honest, the squad was still pretty pony.

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