Cries from supporters of ‘one more year’ on the final day of the 2004/05 Premier League season weren’t to fall on deaf ears. He had rolled back the years in a virtuoso display against Everton – in which he claimed three assists in a 7-0 thumping – and while it would have been a fitting end to Dennis Bergkamp’s Arsenal career, it wasn’t to be his swansong.
He duly heeded the calls from his loyal fanbase to put pen to paper on a one-year contract extension, one that would see him extend his time in north London beyond the age of 36.
As is commonplace in the modern game, stats and data are the be-all and end-all, the classification that determines if a player is any good or not, and the basis with which opposing fans attempt to one-up their rivals by claiming ‘so and so scored more goals, therefore he’s better‘.
For the football purists, and indeed those old enough to remember Bergkamp, regulating a player’s ability solely on numbers is both foolish and unwise. For a man who never flew, few glided across a football pitch quite like the Dutchman.
Even in his later years when age caught up with him, the mould of a man who dazzled in the Premier League was still there for all to see in its majestic glory.
So, with 392 Arsenal matches under his belt, countless defenders dazzled along the way, Bergkamp embarked on his final foray in the English game.
Again, many will point to the numbers no matter how unjust that is, but his influence and talent were still perfectly encapsulated in the Dutchman’s every move. He made only eight league starts that term with a further 16 substitute appearances, but there needed to be an apt farewell to one of the division’s, and Arsenal’s, all-time greats.
Which is why this day, 15 April, 14 years ago, is fondly remembered by those in the red half of north London for providing the fans with the closure they needed to both see and thank the legend for his service to the club, and football as a whole.
#OTD in 2006: Arsenal celebrated Dennis Bergkamp day, where Arsenal beat West Brom 3-1. Hleb and Pires both scored with Bergkamp scoring his final goal for the club. pic.twitter.com/oNOo6guYFZ
— Throwback Arsenal (@ThrowbackAFC) April 15, 2020
There is no masking the disappointment of that season for the club. 11 defeats across the league season saw the title become a mere pipe-dream, and even heading into the final day there were no assurances that a Champions League berth would be secured.
It showed the level of appreciation for the ten superb years of service the Dutchman had given the club that the serious matter of finishing the season strongly and finishing fourth took a temporary backseat. Fans had clamoured for one of
With the game on tenterhooks as the clock ticked down,
It took less than five minutes for him to make an impact in typical Bergkamp fashion. A loose ball in the box was pounced on, controlled effortlessly and directed into the path of Robert Pires with the same level of vision that he’d demonstrated over the course of his whole career. The Frenchman did the rest.
Had the match have ended there, however, that in itself would have acted as the perfect send-off. The fact he went on and scored a delightful curler to seal the points at the death? Football romanticism.
Collecting the ball in between the lines as he’d done so many times before, and with the same quantity of ice in his veins, he set the ball up flawlessly from which he could bend a fine effort with such caress that it shouldn’t have even left the ground.
Now that, is how you say goodbye.
Sure, it wasn’t the final match of the season, but the stage was set for Bergkamp’s artistry to be flaunted one last time. It was an invitation he duly accepted, and one that offered the fans the chance to see a master of the game at work.
Bergkamp Day: The day a football genius had one final flick of his magic wand.
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