Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal from Juventus twenty years ago – and our club, the Premier League and every single Gooner have never been the same since.
Fresh from a victorious World Cup campaign with France, Henry was lured to join the Gunners after a chance flight that saw him share with none other than his former coach and the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger.
The rest isn’t just history, it is ingrained on our consciousness and it leaves us all with the same thought;
Can’t we rewind time to the moment he signed, so I could truly appreciate him in our shirt?
Of course, we all adored him, and it was easy to see why. But hindsight is ever the powerful and redundant tool, and we hark back to when he was in his pomp, in the red and white. And when we do, we realise that we had a footballing immortal in our midst.
The argument over not only the greatest Premier League import, but the greatest Premier League era player rumbles on continuously and Thierry is rightfully mentioned in those verbal tussles. But if we look at the rivals for the crown, we see that they all possessed something special, but Henry had it all.
When Le King started out with us, sans crown, the leading lights of the competition were the likes of Zola, Andy Cole, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Vialli.
All incredible goalscorers. Some had the ability to ghost into the box and find the perfect spot, some had the ability to always know where the keeper was and thus have the advantage. Others had rapier speed. A few could boast an incredible touch, outwitting their marker with a swish of their boot.
Thierry Henry had all of that and then some.
There was a period between 2002-05 where Henry truly was the greatest player on this planet. Goals rained down in the Premiership, Champions League, FA Cup, internationals. All spewing forth from the brain of Thierry. Left foot, right foot, even the occasional headed goal (the sole weakness of the player), he rained terror upon defenders who simply couldn’t deal with the arsenal that Henry possessed.
He could burn them with pace. If he came up against a defender who could keep up with him, he would use movement to beguile him. If the opposing number was a good man-marker, then his physical strength could give him the edge to find half a yard.
It also helped that he could score from any area of the pitch.
During our Invincibles season, there were moments that took the breath from your lungs. He gave us instances that had no parallel. His four goals versus Leeds, at one point he outpaced the entire backline so convincingly but with what appeared to be very little effort – his run looked like it was on ice, such was the silkiness of his gate.
His goal that changed the game versus Liverpool – y’know the one, where Carragher was so badly confused with Henry’s movement that he twisted himself into a heap? – was done with a touch that had no equal – bar Bergkamp – and all processed while he was running faster than anyone on the pitch.
We have a lot to thank Henry for, but the fact he played his best years in our shirt when he could have gone anywhere, that makes it all the more special. He loves the club, and the statue outside the ground is fitting tribute to what he achieved.
He missed out on the Ballon D’Or during his career, but twice finished inside the Top3. He would certainly have deserved it had he won during his best years, but looking back on his time at Arsenal, his legacy isn’t tarnished by not winning it.
His legacy is that he is the benchmark that all strikers are held up against now. Aguero’s goal ratio is incredible, but has he done it with the style of Henry, from all corners of the pitch? Kane is prolific, but has he scored 20+ goals for five consecutive seasons? Auba is fast, but is he ‘Henry’ fast?
The game is inexorably different to the one pre-Titi.
Much like former Sky man Andy Gray gasped during yet another Henry goal:
“I’ve seen most things in this league in the last twenty five years. I haven’t seen anything like him. I said at the beginning of the game that he is special. He’s more than that – he is irreplaceable.”
How right he was.
Twenty years has passed since Henry joined, and we now have the most incredible showreel in all of our minds.
Never mind the abhorrent amount of money that flows through the veins of the game, it is goals that keep the heart pumping, the turnstiles rotating and the clubs breathing.
When the ball hits the back of the net, for scorer and fan alike there is no greater feeling. They make the difference between glory and failure, ignominy and memories made. They encapsulate entire era’s, they symbolise icons and halcyon times.
They are also entirely subjective.
Just look at any Goal of the Month poll. Whether it be long-range screamer, thumping header or intricate team move, there are advocates for all. There are always football hipsters who will vocalise the attributes involved in a 6 yard finish, and the purists will always vouch for a twisting, turning solo goal, seeing opposition defenders sprawled on the turf with twisted blood.
Goals are enjoyed by all, but ask anyone what their favourite goal is and no matter their allegiance, they will always give a different answer.
It can be a long range, top-corner botherer, it could be a 20 pass manoeuvre that exhibits the finest one-touch passing before a slick finish bewilders the goalkeeper. More often than not though, it will be the occasion that elevates a goal from crowd pleaser to unique moment forever captured by all minds.
Look at Michael Thomas and his last minute heroics at Anfield in 1989. His run was astute, yep, but there was a bobble and a touch of luck before he put the ball over the lunging grasp of Bruce Grobbelaar.
Pure it wasn’t, but you ask Gooners what their favourite goal was, and a large swathe of us will plump for it.
Thierry Henry’s effort against Liverpool in 2004. Champions League and FA Cup exits had left us raw, and we were on the rack against an inferior Liverpool team. Step forward Thierry Henry, at the time probably the greatest player in the world.
He picked up the ball about thirty five yards out and began to lead a merry dance, so fleet of foot and rapid that two, three, four Liverpool players attempted and ultimately failed to grab possession or even to stop Henry in his tracks.
Jamie Carragher left in a broken heap on the turf. The roar of the crowd as belief seeped in once again. The goal this time was beautiful, but much more than that, it was when we stayed on track during our greatest test in the Invincibles season.
The point here, is that as long as the net is rippled, we will greedily lap up all and sundry in terms of style of goal. We always appreciate a stylish effort, and if it grades high in technical skill then we will fondly remember it.
But should we progress to the Europa League final and one of our players knocks in the ball with his left butt-cheek? It will be held in the highest regard.
Aaron Ramsey’s winner Vs Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup Final. Andy Linighan, 1993. Charlie Nicholas, 1987, Eddie Kelly, 1971. Some goals were far more aesthetically pleasing than others, but each share a parallel – they won us something. They etched our name on silverware – and for that, they are also etched into our minds in indelible ink.
My personal favourite? Sylvain Wiltord’s effort against United at Old Trafford, 2002. His finish was snaffling up a loose ball after Ljungberg’s effort was saved. But it was everything else that makes it unforgettable. The stadium, the opposition, the fact that we had gone ahead and then won in a ground that gave precious few points away – the fact that it won us the title on enemy ground.
Arsenal had left Highbury. The 2006-07 season was the campaign that saw the Gunners move home from our beloved Marble Halls to the capacious Emirates stadium. Nothing could ever replace the memories forged and glory acquired at Highbury, but us packing our things and moving the short distance to our new home was necessary to keep up with our competitors – or so we were promised.
There were other changes too, and they too were sizeable. Our Iceman, the player who typified our club for ten years, Dennis Bergkamp, was no longer in our ranks. Other notable departures were fellow Invincibles Robert Pires, Lauren and Sol Campbell, as we attempted to move toward the future with a mix of youth and promise.
Another Invincible’s departure was not so warmly sent off. Ashley Cole’s acrimonious departure to Chelsea left an acrid taste and would do for years to come. We had bolstered the squad in order to fill the gaping apertures left by these players though, but could they come close to replicating the impact that these legends had made?
Tomas Rosicky, the diminutive Czech playmaker, was drafted in, as well as burly forward Julio Baptista, Chelsea defender William Gallas and Brazilian youngster Denilson. If we were going to enjoy an assault on the league, then these players would have to step up – and gel quickly.
The first match at The Emirates was versus a decent Aston Villa side, and they would take the honour of being the first team to score a competitive goal at our home – Olaf Mellberg being the player to take the plaudits. We scrabbled for an equaliser, and effervescent teen Theo Walcott crossed for Gilberto to smash home and take a share of the points.
The only other match we had in August saw us take on Manchester City and lose to a Joey Barton penalty, and from two games we had just the one point.
After the international break, Arsenal returned home and ground out a dire draw against a Boro side that shouldn’t have been able to hold a candle to our side, but they still took a point and it left us with another slow start to a season, one that saw us playing catch-up at a ridiculously early stage.
We did start to fire though, and we enjoyed a rare win at Old Trafford in our next game, with Adebayor scoring the only goal. We defended stoutly and the result injected fresh optimism into the fanbase. We had the minerals to duke it out with our competitors.
It sparked a run for our boys, with wins earned against Sheffield United, Charlton (thanks to a Robin Van Persie volley that needs to be on loop), Watford and Reading. We had soared up the table after our less than palatable start, and we were looking dangerous – even without our talisman Thierry Henry, who was suffering with a succession of niggly injuries.
A slight slip in the form of a draw with Everton was compounded with a defeat to West Ham in the next game. The way in which we fell to defeat was to become all too familiar, as we peppered the goal of the Hammers, only for Robert Green to summon the spirit of Lev Yashin to deny us repeatedly. It would be a pattern that would haunt us for years to come.
We redeemed ourselves in the next match however, by hammering Liverpool 3-0 at our new abode. Mathieu Flamini opened the scoring, and further goals by Kolo Toure and new central defensive partner William Gallas bagged the points and sent the Scousers packing.
We weren’t out of the woods though, as a draw to Newcastle and damaging 3-1 defeats to Bolton and a 2-1 loss to Fulham left us with a haul of one win from five games in November. The loss to the Trotters was also another opportunity for journo’s to spread the old adage that this aesthetically pleasing Arsenal side ‘don’t like it up ‘em.’
What acts as the perfect recovery to a bad spell? That’s right, spanking our neighbours and reminding them of our superiority never gets tiresome, and a handsome 3-0 win over that lot down the road went down a real treat after the horror show that was November.
Another London derby didn’t quite go to plan next up, as Michael Essien’s rocket saved Chelsea a point at the Bridge.
We sneaked a 1-0 away win against Wigan in the next game, but clumsily dropped more points against Pompey thereafter.
December’s games were coming thick and fast, and we destroyed Blackburn Rovers 6-2 next up, although Rovers would have the last laugh that season, as they unceremoniously dumped us out of the FA Cup in the Quarter-Finals.
On Boxing Day, we scraped a 2-1 win over Watford thanks to a late RVP goal, but in the last game of 2006, we lost 1-0 at Bramall Lane to the Blades.
Just past the halfway stage in the season, and we had already accrued five losses, hardly title-winning form. In truth, the Championship was never really in our sights from a very early stage, and Chelsea and United were both battling it out in a two horse race. We were once again fighting for a Champions League place – a narrative that would run for the better part of a decade as the lucrative European money was too tasty for our club to resist.
We kicked off 2007 with a spanking of Charlton to the tune of 4-0, and followed it up with a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, although we did so with ten men for the near entirety of the match, with Gilberto getting his marching orders on the 13th minute.
One of the highlights of this season was doing the double over United, and we completed this by winning 2-1 at The Emirates, with King Henry playing the part of our hero once again.
We then dropped points at Boro, before beating Wigan and Reading by the same scoreline, 2-1. A fourth win on the bounce was a 1-0 away win over Villa, with the lesser-spotted Abou Diaby providing the winner. Our run ended in the next game, as Andy Johnson scored a late winner for Everton, to wake us up to our limitations once again.
We had reached the League Cup Final with a team full of talented youths, but the final versus Chelsea saw Wenger use some more of our established stars, but the Champions edged us out 2-1 to take the cup, and deny us our best chance of a trophy that season.
We were still potent in attack, and we showed in fits and bursts that we could roll our sleeves up and fight for a result, but we seemed brittle at times and after the Invincibles, this nightmare would be a recurring one for Gooners. To underline this perfectly, we then completed an undesirable double by losing to the other half of Merseyside, this time the score was 4-1 and Peter Crouch bagged a treble, making him the happiest telegraph pole in all the land.
The telescopic-legged Crouch is an obvious aerial threat, and our failure to keep him quiet was excellent evidence of how our defensive woes would be our undoing. We then earned ANOTHER double in the season, as West Ham became the first away team to win at our new home, with a 1-0 win that saw the Hammers beat us home and away, and also give us our third straight loss.
We fought for a 0-0 draw in Newcastle next up, but our confidence was sapped. We needed a win quickly if we were to achieve a decent position, and a 2-1 win over Bolton showed we were prepared to give it our best. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.
Another home game, another win – this time versus City – was followed by a 2-2 draw at the hovel down the Seven Sisters road, and we ended the season with a win over Fulham, and draws against Chelsea and Pompey. We finished in fourth spot, mere goal difference below Liverpool in 3rd.
A Cup final defeat to Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers dumping us out of the FA Cup and a weak PSV side victorious in the Last16 of the Champions League was not the best return for us all, but there were highlights, particularly the wins over United, Liverpool and tottenham. As a whole though? It was distinctly underwhelming, and getting used to this after dining out on the finest teams in the last ten years would be hard to swallow.
It’s often said about the workplace, that having your closest people around you is a mistake. The phrase, ‘don’t sh*t on your doorstep’ can probably surmise this far better for you, but does this also apply to former players returning to the club in a coaching capacity?
Mikel Arteta is the name lined up to succeed Arsene Wenger, and the Spaniard’s lack of managerial experience will be reportedly offset by the coaching framework around him.
There are other names that are being mentioned though, that may well be as big a gamble as hiring our former player himself.
The names in the frame to form a coaching team around him are all former Gunners, could this unbalance Arteta’s own vision, which is hewn from his own experiences under other managers and styles? .
Can former teammates and ex-Gunners benefit the status quo?
Does friendship between Arteta and Mertesacker, for example, undermine any potential targets however?
It was often said about Wenger that he needed a sounding board for some of his ideas, and he needed an objective voice occasionally. Someone to allow him to see scenarios from a different set of shoes.
Is this same chemistry set to continue? Does a buddy-buddy relationship or other strong ideas about the club mean that Arteta will lack the ability to give decisions the extra thought they require from a different view?
No, quite frankly.
There may well be doubts surrounding Arteta’s capacity for this mammoth role, but hiring Santi Cazorla – as discussed before he reportedly decided to leave the club – or any other former Gunner to lend their wealth of experience can only benefit him and the players under his tutelage.
Henry, Pires, Ljungberg and BFG are also well versed in the ways of Arsenal, something that is high on the priority list for the Board.
Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires each have different likelihoods of coming in as part of the extensive team that will back up Arteta,, and each of them would be a huge plus for our side – for differing reasons.
Per Mertesacker is now our Academy man, watching over our kids as they attempt to make the grade. Freddie Ljungberg is also set to rejoin us as a coach, and both are excellent appointments.
Not only do they have the necessary badges, but they also know Arsenal and what it takes to represent us at the highest level.
Crucially though, they also love the club. Isn’t that an ingredient that is important?
Of course, we could hire some merc who has a chest full of glittering medals, but when it comes to the crunch, will they give everything? Will they go above and beyond?
Ljungberg, Henry et al would make sure our kids and our first team would play for the cannon above all else.
We shouldn’t judge these men on former coaching merits. With the likes of Mee, Graham and Wenger himself having precious little experience in the way of top flight management, we should see these appointments as the heralding of a new era, rather than a cut-price attempt at success.
Arteta in the dugout, aided and abetted by A club icon, can only help Arteta. Much the same as if he had an old hand next to him, slowly handing him the reins. Arteta needs to do this his way – and if he had an assistant manager who had seen and done it all, then that may muddy Arteta’s field of vision.
We need to take a big gamble, but if it pays off, we could enjoy a Spanish renaissance.
Friendship could just be the icing on this particular cake.
Every club has its heroes, and invariably, those that live longer in the memory are those that grabbed goals.
Lots of them.
Strikers are the glory-getters. The successful ones will forever live on with a golden hue tinging every montage that is on a reel in supporters minds. Strikers always hold a special place amongst fans.
Arsenal in the last three decades have enjoyed a glittering blessing from deities that have bestowed a shedload of goals upon Gooners. The rollcall is not only a who’s-who of top flight attacking – it is the equivalent of the Hollywood Boulevard paved with stars.
Alan Smith. Ian Wright. Nicolas Anelka. Thierry Henry. Robin Van Persie.
The names above make the boots of whomever is chosen to wear them, a little harder to wear.
We as fans, have been spoiled. We now want our strikers to continue this miraculous tradition, and any who fall short are immediately resigned to a lesser status. We are still able to recognise their strengths, but they will never measure up unless their exploits match up to our heroes of old.
So Olivier Giroud had one hell of a job when he joined from Ligue Un winning Montpellier in 2013.
The hirsute Frenchman has been castigated by pundits, journalists and even our own fans for his unique brand of histrionics on the pitch and sometimes, for being just too damn handsome – like it makes his game a little weaker because he takes time on his appearance.
Numbers do not lie though, so let us see how Giroud measures up.
In total goals for the club, the bearded one falls short of course. Olivier has grabbed 69 goals thus far in 164 outings in a Gunners shirt. Alan Smith had a haul of 86 goals in 264 apps, Robin Van Persie had 96 goals in 194 outings, Ian Wright smashed 128 goals in 221 games and King Thierry a breathtaking 174 goals in just 254 games. Only Nicolas Anelka scored less, with 23 goals in 65 games.
All of these players had differing durations at the club though. Of course their goal total will be affected by longevity, so the real stat worth poring over is goals per game, right?
A goal every 2.37 games for Giroud so far, compared to 3.07 for Smudge, 2.82 for Anelka, 2.02 for RVP, 1.72 for Wrighty and 1.46 for Titi.
So Giroud’s exploits so far hold up well against the strikers who helped forge the club in its current image.
Giroud still falls short though. Despite his higher amount of substitute appearances than the rest, despite the fact he had the best efficiency rating in the Premier League last season – Giroud is still found to be craning his neck up to the heavens when he looks at the strikers who came before him.
Giroud is hampered by the fact he has never broken the 20-goal barrier in a PL season as well. That level is the unspoken barometer when gauging what makes a complete striker, and as Olivier has never breached it, he has often been maligned.
What is often overlooked though, is his hold-up play, his awareness for his teammates, his front-post prowess. Giroud in many respects is one of the best in what he does.
Until Giroud manages to be a major part of a side that wins the league though, or a side that challenges seriously at the very least, he will forever be in the bracket that lies below the true greats. It is only in the deepest heat that diamonds are created, and the ones who came before Giroud either lifted trophies regularly or their goals held the rest of the team up a la RVP.
Giroud is a fine striker, and one that we should attempt to retain the services of. He can get to 100 goals for the club in the near future and that will push him a few inches nearer to Gunners immortality – but he still has some way to go to stand alongside Smudge, Wrighty and Thierry.
Win a title, keep doing what he has done since he joined. He will always be fondly remembered, but the word ‘legend’ is bandied around far too liberally and has lost its impact a little.
The inauspicious entrance offers no clue as to the treasures that await inside.
The unremarkable automatic double doors silently allow you passage, and then, as if the buidling itself is taking a deep breath, the atrium yawns open ahead of you. The huge open space gives all who enter a plethora of choices as to where they begin their path to footballing enlightenment, but in the centre is a statue of one player.
Perhaps the beacon, the standard bearer from where all technical brilliance begins – Johan Cruyff.
As you marvel at the icon before you, a tour guide offers you and your party a tablet and a set of headphones, which give each person extra information on each spectacle they are about to enjoy.
Then, the member of staff tells you to make your choice for where to begin your journey.
From left to right, all hallways which branch off from this wide open space are clearly labelled:
French national teams of the ’80’s and ’90’s.
Real Madrid European Cup winning teams
Manchester United of 1999
’70’s and ’80’s Liverpool
Pele and Maradona
There were more, and the pole which signposted all choices looked like a confused person attempting to point in the right direction.
You walk toward your choice, and the plain white doors open, and your eyes widen.
In each room, when you enter, all that greets you is the darkest black your eyes could comprehend. As the doors close behind you, a slight panic tingles its way up your spine, but the noise that breaks the silence sweeps any negativity away.
A cacophony of cheering fills the room, and then, you are instantly put into the stands as a football match unfolds around you. Thanks to hologram technology, the fans that have popped up to envelop you make you feel as if you were there, as some of the most iconic and memorable moments of football occur right in front of you.
This museum gives all fans the opportunity to witness first hand – or as close as possible – football that refreshes the child-like wonder that all supporters have. Moments in time that have lived on thanks to the passing of stories between fans of all generations.
Some things aren’t meant to be forgotten. Some things are meant to be held up on the highest pedestal, as propaganda of sorts – to ensure that the root of football lives on.
The sport has changed immeasurably since it began, and it is now dominated by currency, but every now and then, something happens on the pitch which transports all who witness it back to their happiest memories.
Whichever choice you make in this museum, all the moments you care to choose are the finest, unblemished slices of the sport. Michel Platini bringing glory back to France. Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele in 1970 destroying their opposition with ingenuity. Ruud Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard reinventing not only AC Milan, but Dutch football. Dennis Bergkamp scoring his hat-trick Vs Leicester, and his World Cup goal Vs Argentina.
So many instances where your breath gets caught in transit, as you first look on in wonder, and then query how it happened.
The control of the ball as it falls from the heavens, only for it to be put on an invisible leash by men that took the sport to the higher echelons.
Whilst the museum is built as an opportunity for all fans to enjoy what are pure, undiluted examples of the sport we all adore – it is also a tribute to the men who keep football alive. Modern day footballers who aspire to entertain like their heroes who they idolise.
So, take your seat in the holographic stand, as the hairs stand to attention on your arms, like they too want to catch a glimpse of what is about to unfold.
Thierry Henry and Robert Pires are about to kick off…..
There are images and thoughts in your head that rarely become tangible. Those things that you stow away for when you’re having a particularly rough day, that lift the gloom.
Well, meeting Thierry Henry has always been one of mine. It sounds corny to use the word ‘dream,’ but it’s as close as I can get.
Much like every other Gooner, I have probably seen every minute of his beautiful career with our club. He is cast in bronze outside our stadium for good reason. To actually meet him though?
To do this tale of supreme Fanboy-ism justice, I must start at the beginning….
I have been plaguing Lee Dixon – another Gunners icon – with tweets. Desperate as I am to incorporate him in my project, I have tweeted him repeatedly, but to no avail.
Step forward the owner of Piebury Corner – Paul. He noticed my plight and said that the former Number2 had made an appearance in the restuarant recently and he could introduce me to him if I turned up to an event.
I was as good as there.
I booked my ticket, and was then told that another guest would be making an appearance.
Be still my overworked brain! As soon as the name was mentioned, I was a wreck, but I remained rational until I set foot on the DLR to make my way to the night.
Once in the train, my own personal highlights reel of Henry moments ran through my head.
His goal against United that looped over Barthez, his four goal demolition of Leeds United, when Jamie Carragher attempted to stop him and ended up as twisted as a pretzel……
I calmed myself by remembering previous events I had been to, where the headline act had pulled out inexplicably. This would surely happen again, Thierry must be overloaded with work…
I made my way to the venue – the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park – and stood outside. I waited for the stars to arrive like a pitiful autograph hunter, but I wasn’t ashamed. I just adored these men who had given me so much joy, and I dearly wanted to thank them. As I smoked what must have been my third cigarette in about fifteen minutes, I spied Tom Watts – perennial Arsenal host – lugging audio equipment into the theatre.
Not the best time to say hello, so I peered inside, where the ground floor bar was located. Standing at the bar, was none other than one part of the finest defence ever to grace these shores. Lee Dixon.
He was surrounded by people, and it was the wrong time to approach him, marker pen in hand, asking for an autograph, so I chose to keep my distance and gaze from afar, waiting for the prime moment to make my move.
It never came, so I made my way upstairs to where Piebury Paul was spinning some excellent tunes on the decks. I propped myself up at the bar and ordered a whisky. Then, Lee made his way up the stairs.
Once again though, I was foiled in my attempts to fawn over a Gunner, as he was ensconced in conversation as he walked past me, with none other than Le King.
They made their way to the corner of the room, and were untroubled as they remained in conversation. It was clear that this once again wasthe wrong time to approach them with my gushing sentiments, so I stayed in place, content to look from a distance at the men who have never been closer than they were at this moment.
Time slipped by as I watched them, and it bordered into creepy territory but I couldn’t look anywhere else. The doors to the theatre room opened and we all made our way down the stairs. The room to which we all would be treated to Thierry Henry and Lee Dixon soundbites was comfortable, open, and small enough to invite feelings of exclusive conversation. It felt as if we were having a house party, sans loud music and alcohol, but two of the guests were so captivating that everyone crowded around to hear their stories.
Tom Watt, master of ceremonies, took to the stage, to introduce the former players, and then, Lee Dixon’s wife, Yolande, was invited in front of the audience to explain the reason why this event is taking place – which is Yorke Dance Project.
Soon, the Thierry stories were flowing, from his World Cup win, to his inauspicious beginnings at Arsenal, interjected by Lee to great effect. Of particular resonance was when Thierry credited not only Arsene Wenger, but the core group of English players, such as Keown, Dixon and Adams, for helping him become the player he went on to be.
Thierry was inevitably charming, but what really became apparent was his love for the club. He credits his comeback goal against Leeds United as his favourite goal as it was the only time he was able to “score a goal as a fan” and when speaking about the club, he sheds his media shield and his tone changes. It is him speaking from the heart, and everyone was hanging on his every word.
Lee spoke of his punditry work with Roy Keane to great hilarity, and was abundantly clear was the rapport between the two men. Born in different countries yet they share a common strand within themselves, and the respect between the two is born from the time they taught each other valuable lessons.
Ninety minutes passed quickly, and it was quickly wrapped up, so the crowd funnelled through the doors and up the stairs for a pie and a drink. I shuffled towards the stairs, my mind whizzing through the different anecdotes I had just shared with the men on stage, and also from being so close to them! As I struggled to the stairs, I looked to the top of them, and Thierry was swamped by the crowd as he signed autographs and posed for endless photos.
I managed to get to the summit, but the hubbub around Henry was manic. I was going to patiently wait for my slice of Thierry time, but I was at the top of the stairs and my frame was blocking people keen to get a pie. I sloped off, worrying that my chance may be slipping away to bathe in the glory of the King – and show him my Thierry Henry branded socks….
I took solace in my pie, which was obviously a Thierry Henry, and spoke at length to Paul, who was again presiding over music.
Whilst the music was pumping, I went over my newly revised gameplan. I would wait ten minutes for the crowd downstairs to dissipate, then I would swoop in for my moment with the King. Then, I would ruthlessly seek out Lee and tell him why his contribution is so important.
I polished off my pie, downed the remains of my second whisky, and made my move. As I went down the flight of steps, the previously packed room was ominously empty.
Panic rose through my stomach like an icy eel, and I took the second flight of stairs two at a time (not a big deal to the average male, but I’m closer to a hobbit than an average man). I headed straight for the exit, and Thierry was there, saying his final farewells……
DJ Spoony was responsible for all the audio equipment for this special gig, and he was saying goodbye to Henry, whose cab was waiting. There were a few other chaps involved in the conversation, but no needy fans harrassing him – aside from me.
I would never forgive myself if I had let this chance slip, so I had to let go of my polite sensibilities and thrust myself into their proceedings. I did this by inching ever closer, so close that it was impossible for them to ignore my large melon creeping into their eyeline.
Bless DJ Spoony, he was the man who acknowledged my crazed presence, and told Thierry that I wanted to say hello. For this Spoony, I thank you. This is where the story really pays off….
Thierry turned ninety degrees. Despite his cab running and him quite obviosuly having other things to do, he looked at me, smiled and offered his hand. I grabbed it like it was the last piece of chicken in the bucket, but I managed to remain dignified when I shook it – apart from the fact that I didn’t let his hand go…..
I spoke to him. These were the words I uttered:
“Thierry, you are a hero of mine. I want to say thank you for what you did for our club, it means so much.”
Then, Thierry managed to shake off my clinging grasp, and put his now free hand to his heart, whilst simultaneously saying “thank you for this.”
I watched him enter his cab, and then as the vehicle left the scene, much like a farewell in a big screen movie – at least in my head. I smoked a cigarette to calm my nerves, and then began to hunt for my raison d’etre – Lee Dixon.
He was on the ground floor, and again it was DJ Spoony who enabled me to speak to Lee. I told him of my book and that I would love his experiences within the pages, and he agreed to give me his words.
I grabbed a photo with him, and then made my way upstairs. Mission accomplished. The rest of the night went well, and I met some great people, but it was Thierry and Lee that will remain ingrained on my memory.
The journey home was a blur, and the highlights reel that runs in my mind of Henry’s greatest exploits, now has a fantastic ending, when I met him.
His bronze-set form sits outside the Emirates as a constant reminder of his record with us, but Gooners don’t need a reminder. Meeting him was just as good as I had envisioned – but it could have been perfect……