“Nothing will ever top that night for me”
- Thierry Henry on his goalscoring comeback for Arsenal against Leeds, .
Yesterday saw the première of “Arsenal Legends – Thierry Henry“, the latest in a series of documentaries produced by the club, which, along with the previous episodes on Dennis Bergkamp and Martin Keown, is available exclusively on iTunes and is available from 23rd December. For £2.49, I can’t think of a more fascinating insight into a player, celebrating their achievements at the club.
The film does not focus solely on the glories achieved in the first decade of this century, some of the uncomfortable moments – Copenhagen 2000, Paris 2006 – with Henry’s honest about his assessment of his own contribution. It is a common theme through the 90 minutes or so of the film; happy with the plaudits, the player does not shy away from self-criticism which stems from his father’s assessments of his youthful performances.
Having accepted that he had to earn his place in the side when he arrived, the film covers the early days until his first goal at The Dell, quickly forwarding to Henry turning Steve Bould (in his Sunderland days) left, right and centre before scoring at Highbury. It becomes a procession through to the record-breaking match in Prague, his one regret is that he became the club’s leading goalscorer in an away match.
There are explanations, from subdued goal celebrations to Jamie Redknapp’s dislike of the club. Henry’s contempt for Tottenham is clear and reflecting on the title win in 2003/04 – “Winning the double is amazing, going a season unbeaten is an achievement“; he was baffled that Taricco celebrated a draw so much that he ended with cramp, bemused that a club’s standards were so low that they did not realise it was provocative to their closest rivals who only needed a point to be champions.
Lasagna-gate? Karma’s a bitch if Robbie Keane’s goal in Highbury’s last North London Derby is anything to go by. A sheer disdain in Henry’s voice, his facial reaction, almost spitting the word ‘them’ out, repeatedly in a short space of time. ‘Them“, “anyone but them“; genuine contempt from the former captain. The ending of The Invincibles unbeaten run is dealt with similarly – “It was a day we were always going to lose but it was the way it happened” – and I am sure the Irish hold a similar begrudging admiration for Henry as he does for Wayne Rooney.
Yet the most powerful moments centre around the end of 2005/06; the final moments at Highbury and Paris. Has there ever been a more telling juxtaposition of the old and new? Martin Tyler’s commentary, regaling Highbury as a stately home with the tawdry fires blasting skywards; the modern era of broadcasting in all its shining vulgarity despoiling a beautiful moment in a beautiful game in a beautiful stadium. “Something did die that day in me” as it did for us all; the end of an era. Henry observes that whilst photos and videos are marvellous reminders, that Highbury no longer exists means he cannot look out on his “back garden” as he called it, remembering the good times.
For the price of less than a matchday programme, this is well worth the investment next Monday.
Contrasting fortunes with today’s hero; Jack Wilshere is likely to end up with a one-match ban following his maths lesson at the end of the match at Eastlands. We quickly found out that the media can count and there is little wrong with their eyesight when it comes to the misdemeanours of players, Wilshere in particular at the moment. How will the documentary makers in years to come reflect on this season?
Reports this morning suggest Arsenal will claim provocation as a defence; I am not sure that will wash but there is more substance to it than the spurious linkage in this morning’s Sun with Fernando Torres’ scratching of Jan Vertonghen’s face earlier in the season. Football is in danger of losing sight of the real issues, trivialities such as Wilshere’s are visited with a puritanical zeal in the ruling authorities desire to present a sanitised product to the world and that is wrong.
It is that grime, the mud over the face of the street urchin as he strolls home, shirt tails flapping after a 29 -26 win, that marks football’s global appeal. Wilshere’s gesture is not unusual in the game, plenty of sly symbols are thrown back at the crowd who are giving more than they get. Are we expecting players who have given their all in physical and mental battle with their opponents, to turn, shake hands and wander off to a chorus of “Here we are, happy as can be, all good friends and jolly good company“? When football’s leaders are less than virtuous, should we be satisfied with their hypocrisy in meting out punishments in trivialities?
More to the point, would they not be better advised to direct their efforts at the real problems facing football, eradicating racism and any manner of displaying prejudices based on sexual orientation. Football cannot even get ticket pricing right, believing it has immunity to any economic circumstances. All manner ills for a game hellbent on destroying its soul.