Dennis Bergkamp Testimonial - A legend retires in style

Last updated : 23 July 2006 By Brian Dawes
The match programme and souvenir DB10 photo album were neat in their little autographed plastic bag, if a tad overpriced at £5 a shot. For my third consecutive Arsenal game I was given a free T-shirt to wear at the match. Mine was red, others were white and the ‘prawn circle' were dressed in orange. Will Bergkamp's Testimonial out-price the Wigan t-shirts on E-bay I wonder? Who knows, but I do know the stadium was all the better for a fabulous red, white and orange display. I'm pretty sure nowhere in the world on Saturday saw more amateur photographers than our new stadium at Ashburton Grove, both inside and out. More on the stadium another time, Saturday was all about our non-flying Dutchman.

The first man to officially kick a ball on Saturday was Bergkamp's father Wim, he passed it to his world famous son, who tapping it to his 7-year-old son Mitchel. The kick was witnessed by a mere 54,000 fans due to the restricted attendance but for a lot of them it will have been the highest home attendance they'd encountered.

It will probably be the only game we'll ever see at Ashburton Grove where the Arsenal team kicks the same way in both halves. For the first half we essentially played a mix of youth and reserve team players with Arsene giving as many as possible a taste of our new home. Hleb was the possibly the only player, unless Flamini is going to get the left-back berth, who is likely to be a regular first choice starter in the Premiership this season. To his credit Cygan did well with a couple of beautifully timed tackles and Connelly at the back looked assured. Ryan Smith was lively, but Hleb failed to run the show without his more regular support. Adebayor has only just started training and Aliadiere showed why he'll possibly go out on loan once again. Young Traore showed some promise, Flamini chugged about and Song also appeared. Ajax in a black change strip were treating the game for real with one or two heavy tackles whereas Arsenal, understandably, wanted more of a training jog. The eight or so first half substitutions did little to consolidate our play.

In all honesty the first half was dire enough to induce a Mexican wave and some fairly standard ‘Stand up if you hate Tottenham' chants. From a football perspective the timing was wrong, with so many stars yet to return from their World Cup duties. But no one really cared because we were here to see our new stadium and to say good-bye to Dennis. Everyone on the pitch tried to set Dennis up with a goal but it just wasn't to be. Dennis our master craftsman whose arrival at N5 heralded the commencement of an Arsenal era that future generations will rightly regard with awe didn't need to score to enhance his reputation, but it would have been nice..

The first game was refereed by Andre Marrinner according to the programme – whom I assumed to be Andre Marriner. He failed to award a very obvious free kick when Ryan Smith got badly clattered, so I don't look forward to seeing him at the Wengerdome again, or anywhere else for that matter. Ajax blagged the stadiums first goal when Klaas Jan Hunterlaar timed his run to meet a fine cross from the left to slip home a close range goal. 0-1 at half time and during the break I imagine the caterers were not fully tested because so many legends were being introduced individually onto the field of play.

The whole day was very emotional, particularly so when compare Bob Wilson introduced the ‘legends'. First out came the ‘Ajax Legends' that included many great players Danny Blind, the De Boer twins, Jan Wouters, Bryan Roy, Jaap Stam, Marcinano Wink, Frank Rijkaard, boo boy and ex-Scum Edgar Davids, Stefan Pettersson, Wim Jonk and Van Der ‘not quite a legend' Sar. Saving the best till last were cameo appearances from two of the greatest footballers of all time. First on was Johan Cruyff who walked around the pitch telling people what to do and where to go, as he always did. Better yet we also glimpsed the supreme Marco van Basten who showed with one piece of fabulous skill how the greatest players in the world will always have what it takes.

Arsenal too had many favourite sons appearing in the ‘Arsenal Legends' side and they so obviously relished the chance to test our new pitch. Every one of them was quite rightly rapturously greeted onto the field of play. In goal we had David Seaman looking a tad chubby but who did the twist when requested and Alex Manninger who made a couple of really great saves. Both looked good in the new green goalkeeper's jersey.

In defence we had Dixon with a dodgy knee, later to be replaced by Oleg Luzhny. We also had Bould who can still berate a lino, the ever-popular Keown, Gilles Grimandi who was man-of-the-match apart from Dennis. Nigel Winterburn who clearly wanted to the first Gooner to score at THOF2 and rarely recovered to defend. When Nige ran out of steam Gio van Bronckhorst, who was unfairly booed onto the pitch due to his Barca connections, did the biz in his place.

In midfield was the mighty Vieira who looked so totally at home, a smiling Edu, the ever-popular Ray Parlour and Manu Petit with his ponytail back in full flow. Down the left we had Helder going down the line and Overmars who still oozed tons of class. Up front we had Thierry who flew back from the States for the day, the inevitable and very enthusiastic Ian Wright, a grinning Kanu and the great man himself Dennis.

'The Legends' game was refereed by Mario van der Ende and was great fun. Davids gave it his all and was booed with every touch. Thierry who could have slaughtered the elder Ajax legends had he so desired scored our first goal from a Bergkamp-Dixon-Henry move, but mainly tried to set up Wrighty or Dennis. Kanu hit a shot that was deflected home by Jaap Stam for our winner. 2-1 Arsenal and an ex-Manc own goal was fine by me. My first abiding memory of our new home however came from Gilles Grimandi who tracked back as Davids ran through to score and whacked his ankles away to concede a penalty to the relief of one and all. In a proper game it would have been a very obvious red card, but in this match it was the highlight of the game. Our French scout axing an ex-Tott to prevent a certain goal right in front of the new North Bank, classic stuff. The penalty was generously clipped over the bar by one of the De Boer twins, I think. Whoever it was clearly understood the proper protocol of a Testimonial.

I have to wonder if the lack of a visible clock in the stadium was because 45 minutes was too long for some of the legends or because the stadium is obviously not quite the finished article yet. The second half definitely finished before the full the 45 minutes was up. The noise inside the stadium was encouraging with the singing section in the north-west often but not inevitably leading the way. Ajax fans were their usual vocal selves and a good time was had by all. Even the police enjoyed the day especially it appeared when chucking out, or arresting a few Ajax fans in the away corner.

The day ended with a lap of the stadium by Dennis and if there was a dry eye in the house there shouldn't have been. Legend is an overused word but one that is entirely appropriate and synonymous with the supreme footballing great whom we know and love as DB 10. So if you'll permit me I would just like to finish by addressing Dennis directly.

Thank you Dennis Bergkamp. It has been an absolute honour and a supreme pleasure to share so many stadiums in your presence. Thank you so much for what you have done for my Club and for all that divine artistry that I've been so fortunate to enjoy during your time with us. I hope your retirement from football is not permanent because I feel you still have so much you could pass on to lesser mortals.