On This Day: Dennis Bergkamp Scored The Goal Made Him An Arsenal Hero
On this day 25 years ago, Dennis Bergkamp scored his first Arsenal goal - and he says that the reaction was so "incredible" he felt an instant bond to his new club.
The Dutch striker had failed to find the net in his first seven games for the Gunners, but a superb half-volley against Southampton changed that. A sunny Highbury erupted and Bergkamp admits the ferocity of the response has stayed with him forever.
"The way the crowd reacted was more than I could have imagined," he says in his book, Stillness and Speed. "I wouldn't say it was typically English but the way they celebrated, all jumping up and hands in the air together... it's not explosive like that anywhere else.
"That moment was the start of the relationship with the Arsenal crowd. They'd been patient with me, and I don't know why because they didn't know me... They didn't know my character and now they were giving this!
"The warmth was incredible. I'd only been here for one-and-a-half months. After that goal we never lost that relationship."
Crucially it was the way Arsenal fans kept faith as Bergkamp endured a lean start, as well as the ecstatic reaction to his first goal, that proved so important. A lesson to any fans too quick to jump on a new signing's back.
Bergkamp's move from Inter Milan for £2.5 million in 1995 was viewed as a terrific piece of business. Yet the 26-year-old struggled to settle early on.
As his friend and teammate Ian Wright recalls: "When Dennis started at Arsenal he didn't start great... I remember him getting stick from a player from Hartlepool. This player from f***ing Hartlepool was saying stuff to Dennis!"
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But everything changed after his first Arsenal goal - not least because he followed it up with an even better strike in the same game. Bergkamp lashed in a belting shot from outside the box to send the fans into an even greater frenzy as his side beat the Saints 4-2.
"It felt like 50 kilos had been taken off my back [after that first goal]," says Bergkamp in his autobiography, describing that second finish. "I got the ball just over the halfway line, and I saw a lot of space in front of me... First I go right of the defender to get in the cross. Then I realise, 'I've got enough space here to get forward and shoot'... And there's that explosion from the crowd again!"
'The Iceman' had warmed up and did not look back. By the end of the season he had 16 goals, then by 1997/98 he scored 22 and won PFA Player of the Year as Arsenal grabbed a Premier League and FA Cup double.
Despite his 120 Arsenal goals, Bergkamp never had the mindset of a deadly finisher, being as happy to set up a teammate as he was to score himself. That became increasingly clear as his spell at Arsenal stretched to 11 seasons, during which he recorded 94 assists in the Premier League alone - enough for fifth on the all-time list.
Many of those were passes to Thierry Henry, as the pair formed a sensational partnership. But before the Henry era, Bergkamp netted plenty of goals himself - none more special to him than that first goal at Arsenal.
Little did he know that one day he'd have the rare honour of a statue of himself outside the ground of this club. But, in a way, he put the first tiny building block of that statue in place himself, 25 years ago.
All imagery: PA Images
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