Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal in June 1995 for the sum of £7.5 million. He became one of Bruce Rioch’s first signings, breaking the club’s transfer record in the process.
The Dutchman had performed incredibly for Ajax and for his national team. Inter Milan came in and signed him in 1993, but he struggled with the style of play in Serie A and wasn’t played in his favoured position.
When Bergkamp joined Arsenal, he came in at a crucial time in the club’s modern history. George Graham had left the club in shame at the beginning of the year and Paul Merson had also gone into rehab for drug use and a gambling addiction.
Graham’s assistant Stewart Houston took charge of the club until the end of the season until a replacement could be found.
The club went in for Bolton manager Bruce Rioch, who went out and spent close to £12 million on Bergkamp and England captain David Platt.
All eyes were on Bergkamp when the 1995/96 season started. With his price tag almost commanding pressure to succeed from the outset, Bergkamp was expected to deliver.
Arsenal were unbeaten in their first six games, winning three and drawing three. The only problem was that Bergkamp hadn’t scored yet. It hadn’t gone unnoticed and opposing fans, pundits and journalists were quick to get on his back. The photo at the bottom of this article included Stuart Pearce’s opinions of Bergkamp’s move to England.
Pearce was the Nottingham Forest and England full back at the time and he stated that Arsenal should have signed Stan Collymore instead of Bergkamp!
It got worse a few days later when Arsenal visited Hartlepool United in the Coca Cola Cup. They won the match convincingly 3-0, but yet again Bergkamp failed to find the back of the net. One tabloid ran with the headline ‘Hartle-Fool’, gloating that he was unable to score against a Third Division side.
Four days later, Southampton visited Highbury on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I was at the game and I was there to see Bergkamp finally break his duck in his eighth match for the club.
17 minutes were on the clock when Glenn Helder broke down the left wing. He looked up and saw Bergkamp, his fellow Dutchman in space in the middle of the penalty area and delivered a pinpoint cross into the box.
Bergkamp caught the ball beautifully on the volley with his right foot and hit it low into the bottom corner of the net. A huge roar greeted the goal. It was the loudest celebration that I ever heard at our old home.
Our new superstar was up and running. He went on to score sixteen goals in 41 matches that season. Bergkamp retired in 2006 after ten years at the club, with 120 goals to his name. The most crucial of them was on that balmy September afternoon back in 1995.