BY MARY O’CONNELL
I wanted to contribute to the Memory Bank because the creation of new memories every season, coupled with the recollection of unforgettable moments from days gone by, is one of my favourite things about being an Arsenal fan.
I still remember what it felt like to put on my first shirt and reminisce about the days when, before live blog updates, I would sit with my mother and sister in front of the teletext screen, waiting and hoping for it to flash up an Arsenal goal.
I remember giving my cousin Killian his first replica jersey when he was 5-years-old, a gold shirt with Bergkamp on the back. That same day, the day before Christmas Eve in 2001, Thierry Henry scored at Anfield, the first time an Arsenal player had netted at that ground in six years. Even though we played most of the match with ten men, we won 1-2, and Killian, and his shirt, were immediately pronounced lucky.
I remember cutting out match reports from newspapers and sticking them in scrap books, on notice boards, and when I moved into my first flat, I used to pin them on the back of my kitchen door. I remember watching Arsene Wenger walk around Highbury with the t-shirt that had been made by fans of rival clubs to mock him, “I think we can go the whole season unbeaten”...well, we did.
One of my best memories is the Kanu hat-trick at Stamford Bridge. We weren’t accustomed to losing to Chelsea and were disgusted to find ourselves 2-0 down. I had stopped watching Soccer Saturday in a temper and was in our garden when my mother shouted at me that we had managed to “scrape a goal back for shame’s sake.” There was enough time to equalise...surely...and then Kanu did exactly that.
Having been resigned to a defeat we were ecstatic at the thought of a point, when Jeff Stelling suddenly stopped reading the scores, and in his inimitably dramatic way, loudly proclaimed that there had been another goal at Stamford Bridge. Pause. “If I tell you that Frank McLintock is waving his hands in the air, you’ll know which way it’s gone!!!” Euphoria. 2-0 down, 2-3 up. It doesn’t get better than that.
What I want to write about though is the moment I felt happiest as an Arsenal fan. It wasn’t a reaction to winning a trophy, or beating any individual club, although beating Barcelona came VERY close. As does the unbeaten season. As does winning the league at Old Trafford. And winning it at White Hart Lane...
It was a game in May 2005, Arsenal vs Everton at Highbury, just days after Dennis Bergkamp’s 36th birthday. I should say that the Dutchman is my all time, number one, favourite player. I’m not going to describe how much I loved watching him, because I don’t have the words, and I don’t have to tell any Arsenal fan what he means to our club, or how he symbolises everything good about it.
All season, there had been speculation about whether or not he was going to be offered a new contract, and naturally, coming to the end of the season, it was a subject that was frequently discussed. I was devastated at the thought of Arsenal without Bergkamp, and resolved to make the most of watching the game that evening. As I tuned in I vividly remember seeing fans parade banners begging: “Arsene, Keep Dennis.”
What followed was a Bergkamp masterclass; an undiluted presentation of his best work which engineered a very special 7-0 victory. We were two goals ahead inside about 10 or 12 minutes. Bergkamp first set up compatriot, Robin Van Persie, and then soon after assisted Robert Pires. It wasn’t long before he was causing further mischief, providing Patrick Vieira with another beautiful pass which the Frenchman slid home. Pires scored again after half-time, before Edu stroked home a penalty. 5-0 up at home and Bergkamp was conducting the Arsenal orchestra.
I loved every second of it, but there was something missing. I was desperate to see him score. I was greedy for that one last gift, a goal to complete a perfect evening. Of course, as he did so often, Dennis delivered. A clipped shot past the Everton keeper brought the house down and the supporters celebrated as if the Champions League had been won.
The look on Dennis’ face said it all. The appreciation of the fans said even more. And then there was me, at home in my favourite Bergkamp shirt, jumping up and down singing the only tune that mattered:
“We’ve got Dennis Bergkamp, we’ve got Dennis Bergkamp, we’ve got Dennis Bergkamp…”
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