Football is not a matter of life or death, it is more important than that


Dennis Bergkamp

The idea behind me doing this site is so I can publish my thoughts, ideas, dreams and stories, it allows me to wax lyrical about all the things that I love in life and all the things that have impacted on my life, and Mr Bergkamp did just that. Every fan of every club has his or her favourite player, and as the years go by it can change, new hero’s come, old ones pass into history. But for me no one will ever match Dennis. He was the perfect footballer, the greatest footballer of a generation, the greatest import into English football, and, he was one of ours, he was an Arsenal player. He will forever be the ultimate Arsenal legend.

So what was it about Mr Bergkamp that set him above all the others, his goals, his vision, his passing, his movement, he aggression, his nasty streak, his stature, his manner both on and off the pitch, his dedication, his attitude or his perfectionism? The answer is of course all of the above.  

For me, and for many Arsenal fans, Dennis was not just about what he did on the pitch, he was the one person who really opened the door to the new Arsenal, the modern Arsenal, because he was the first, the first real foreign superstar to join Arsenal, he did not come at the end of his career, but before he reached his peak, he therefore set the standard for all players of the future. He raised beyond any level seen before the expectation of Arsenal and the fans.

Dennis Nicolaas Maria Bergkamp (born May 10, 1969 in Amsterdam) is a retired Dutch professional footballer. At club level he played for Ajax, Internazionale, and Arsenal and also represented the Netherlands at international level. Bergkamp played most of his best games as a support striker, where his tactical awareness and deft passes made him a great exponent of the game from the 'hole'. He was selected by Pelé as one of the FIFA 125 greatest living players and is widely regarded as one of the English Premier League's all-time greatest players. In 2007 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, the first ever Dutch player to receive the honour. He has also finished third in the FIFA Player of the Year award twice. Raised in a flat in western Amsterdam, Bergkamp was one of four sons of a Catholic plumber. He was never known to socialize much outside of his own family. His parents, who were football fanatics, named him after Manchester United, Manchester City and Scotland striker Denis Law.

After two unhappy seasons at Inter, Bergkamp was signed by Arsenal boss Bruce Rioch in June 1995 for £7.5m. Bergkamp made his debut against Middlesbrough on 19 August 1995 but had to adapt to the English style of play; it took him seven games before he managed to score his first goal, against Southampton. Slowly but surely, Bergkamp's stature grew, playing as a forward behind the main striker, Ian Wright. They soon formed a strong partnership which was one of the finest in the Premier League. Bergkamp has been regarded by many football pundits such as Alan Hansen as being the greatest foreign player to grace the English game.

Bergkamp's arrival at Arsenal was significant, not only as he was one of the first world-class foreign players to join an English club since the lifting of the Heysel ban in 1990, but also because he was a major contributor to the club's return to success after a brief period of mediocrity of the mid-1990s.

Bergkamp hit his best form for Arsenal after the arrival of Arsène Wenger in September 1996. Arsenal won a Premiership and FA Cup double in the 1997-98 season (although Bergkamp missed the cup final with an injury), and Bergkamp was voted PFA Player of the Year. In September 1997, he became the first and so far only player to have come first, second and third in Match of the Day's Goal of the Month competition, for a hat trick against Leicester City. He scored 16 times that season, as well as being involved in setting up many more. At the end of that same season, he helped the Netherlands to a fourth-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. In that competition he scored one of the greatest goals of all time in a quarter final win against Argentina, after receiving a 60 yard pass from Frank de Boer.

While his form since has not matched the spectacle of that season, Bergkamp continued to be a regular in the Arsenal team. He won the double again in 2002, the FA Cup in 2003 and the Premiership for a third time in 2004. The club's domestic success has not been matched in European competition, the closest to winners' medals coming when they lost the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray on penalties and the 2006 Champions League final loss to Barcelona; Bergkamp travelled overland to Paris for his competitive farewell, only to be an unused substitute.

In 2005, due to Arsenal's reluctance in offering him a new deal, there was speculation that Bergkamp would leave the club, and possibly football altogether. Bergkamp had said he would retire from football if not offered a new contract with Arsenal for the 2005-06 campaign, despite interest from his former club Ajax. Following Arsenal's penalty shootout victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup Final in Cardiff though, it was revealed he would sign a one-year contract extension, which was custom by the manager Arsène Wenger for players over 30 years old, keeping him at the London club for their final season at the Arsenal Stadium at Highbury.

On April 15, 2006, the home match against West Bromwich Albion, the Arsenal supporters dedicated the original "Supporter's Day" match theme (one of the designated theme days Arsenal prepared to celebrate their last year at Highbury before moving to the Emirates Stadium) to "Dennis Bergkamp Day", to commemorate Bergkamp's time at Arsenal. Bergkamp came on as a second half substitute, setting up the winning Robert Pirès goal, after Albion had equalised just after he came on. He scored a curler himself at the 89th minute, as Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners. That goal proved to be the last goal Bergkamp scored in Arsenal colours and in competitive football.

Bergkamp officially retired from competitive football after the 2006 Champions League final game against FC Barcelona on May 17, 2006. The last game he played in Arsenal colours was also the last game at Highbury, against Wigan Athletic on May 7, 2006 - the final Premier League game of that season. Bergkamp scored 120 goals for Arsenal in 424 appearances, and set up a further 166 goals in his Arsenal career. This makes him the top assist maker in Premier League history.

If Arsenal Football Club ever get another player who can be even 75% of Dennis, then we will be very lucky, plus we will win a lot of trophies.

Mr Bergkamp, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You. Thank you for everything you gave.

© 2008 Paul Kavanagh. All rights reserved.