France ’98, Chewing Gum and DB10

July 26, 2008 at 10:37 am 33 comments

The summer of 1998 changed my life.

Until that point in time, I was only vaguely acquainted with the beautiful game. I had watched bits and pieces of the 1994 World Cup, but with very little involvement, as I wasn’t familiar with any of the players or teams. The first time I watched football over a sustained period of time was two years later, during Euro ’96. The packed stadiums, the noisy fans and above all else, the heart-pounding, non-stop action (completely alien to someone who had grown up on cricket!) captured my young imagination.

At that time, the country’s leading sports magazine, ‘The Sportstar’, devoted a mere two pages, and sometimes not even that, to the world’s most popular sport. A column by Brian Glanville, or just a round up of the developments in the footballing world, usually restricted to England. Every week, as soon as I got my hands on the new issue, I would search out and feverishly devour those two pages, and then go on to spend the rest of the week thinking about what I’d read.

It was in one of those weekly doses of football news, at the beginning of the summer of ’98, that I read about how Arsenal, the challengers, under their sophisticated French manager Arsene Wenger (was the club named after him, I wondered, at the time) had dethroned the two time defending champions Manchester United, led by the ebullient Scot, Alex Ferguson and clinched the English Premier League title. I was a neutral then, and so this underdog victory thrilled me to bits. But I haven’t been a neutral ever since.

That was the singularity, the Big Bang, and after that, the football universe just exploded into life inside my head. ‘The Sportstar’ suddenly started running World Cup special issues to lead up to the footballing extravaganza that was to take place in France later that summer – The Holy Grail itself, the FIFA World Cup, dubbed France ‘98. After a few weeks of committed reading, I knew everything there was to know about the tournament – the teams, the managers, the superstars waiting to be crowned, the young turks looking to make an impression, the schedule, the venues, everything. I was ready for kick-off.

At the same time, a chewing gum company was running a World Cup related promotion, offering a free football card with every wad of a certain gum purchased. I spent a lot of time chewing gum that summer and soon, I had amassed 46 out of the 50 cards that were available for collection. On the front, there was the player’s image, and on the back, some information about him – his nationality, club, position, etc. I would gaze longingly at the images and then flip over the cards to read the names of the great clubs these superstars played for – Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ajax – legendary names, with magnificent histories behind them.

Though I can’t find any of those cards now, the images printed on them will forever be embossed on my brain – Ronaldo was muscling his way through some hapless defence, Shearer had just given the ball a frightful thwack, Zidane was snarling away at some unfortunate soul and Schmeichel was screaming instructions at his defenders, his face contorted with rage. I was completely obsessed, staring at the cards for hours, weaving wondrous stories around these static but immortal images. However, even in the set, I had a few cards that I liked more than the others, and one in particular that I treasured over the rest of them. It featured a slightly built, blond Dutchman wearing a red and white shirt that said JVC on it. His name was Dennis Bergkamp.

The moment I flipped the Bergkamp card over, and found out that the club he played for was Arsenal; I think that’s when the real connection took place. I don’t quite remember whether I liked him because of the club or if my love for the club grew because of him, but either way, supporting any other club was absolutely out of the question now. France ‘98 finally kicked off, and I was overjoyed when the players I’d been seeing on cards all summer, suddenly appeared on my TV screen in the flesh, running around and kicking the ball. It was a thrill like nothing I’d ever felt before. Though all of the players excited me, the one player I looked forward to watching the most was the one on my favourite card – the peerless Bergkamp.

My admiration for the icy-cool assassin in orange rose to astronomical levels as the tournament progressed. His skill, elegance and intelligence captivated me, and in the dying minutes of the quarterfinal against Argentina, when he scored THAT goal, controlling the ball with ease, taking it inside Ayala and slotting it past Roa, I was up on my feet, clapping and screaming. For a player, to do that was difficult enough, but to do it at that crucial moment, at the business end of a knockout game in the world’s biggest tournament, that is the stuff schoolboy dreams are made of. And I was celebrating not only for the Netherlands that day, but also for Arsenal the following season. “We’ve Got Dennis Bergkamp, We’ve Got Dennis Bergkamp,” the Arsenal faithful would chant, for 11 glorious years.

For the Netherlands, he may have been Dennis Bergkamp, but for Arsenal, he was simply DB10. Blessed with quick feet, supernatural vision and exquisite technique, DB10 was Arsene Wenger’s template for the Arsenal teams he has built over the years. There was nothing he could not do on the football pitch – the little dinks, the eye-of-the-needle Hollywood passes, the curlers, the rockets, the tap-ins and the UNDESCRIBABLY BRILLIANT. And of course, as far as I was concerned, DB10 was the very foundation of my relationship with Arsenal. So it was that much more emotional for me when it was announced that the 2005-06 season would be his last, that he would be retiring from the game at the end of it. I just couldn’t believe that DB10 would be no more. 

In mid-2006, he finally packed his bags and left for home, to enjoy the pleasures of retirement, bringing to an end one of the most glorious chapters in Arsenal’s history, not just in terms of trophies won but also in terms of the football that was played. He may be gone now, never again to wear the famous red and white, but one thing is for certain. For Arsenal fans the world over, especially this one in Chennai, DB10 will live forever.

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Entry filed under: Arsenal, Football, Personal. Tags: , , , , .

One of the mistakes of my life? Because this deserves a blog post…

33 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paulie  |  July 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Ah, a writing on the “Non-Flying Dutchman”. Although me am a Man U fan for life, I wouldn’t mind expressing my love for DB. He’s part of that rare breed in football which includes the likes of Totti – the crafty footballers. Sublime skills coupled with a very fast and intelligent brain..that’s what these guys are. Certainly DB is one of the greats and could have been more in the news if he got over his flying problems. Heard that he might come to Arsenal coaching, is that true?

    Reply
  • 2. Vinod  |  July 26, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    He’s just started as assistant to Van Basten at Ajax. Maybe he will come, someday. To take over from Wenger.

    Reply
  • 3. anantha  |  July 26, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I did exactly the same thing for Italy in ’90. There was a gum called “World Cup” that gave you cards. I collected a bunch. My interest then was the national teams. I was a big supporter of Argentina and Maradona. Then Italia ’90 ended and the B&H World Cup ’92 happened. With it sank all my soccer interests. It now cricket all the way.

    Reply
  • 4. Gaurav  |  July 26, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I dont know If your aware of this…But the Fifa 99 Computer Game has DB on its cover…That was when I became an arsenal fan:)…

    Reply
  • 5. Vinod  |  July 26, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    anantha,

    hehehe.. maybe the gum was called ‘World Cup’, I really don’t remember.. And for me, cricket has been firmly plastered in second place after that summer! 🙂

    Reply
  • 6. Vinod  |  July 26, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Gaurav,

    Nope I didn’t know that! Only had the cracked version on cd! 😉

    Reply
  • 7. Abhishek  |  July 26, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Dude – major hate to you for having curtailed RSS feeds! Amit realised that it does not work, and it’ll never work for you either. I’m mean, what’s the point?

    Reply
  • 8. Vinod  |  July 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Abhishek,

    Relax, man. Didn’t know it caused so much frustration. Settings changed now.

    Reply
  • 9. skimpy  |  July 26, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    the most painful thing about France 98 was that DD came up with this concept of “deferred live”. I don’t konw how that could be called live. so lost all interest in the tournament. and then there was the Ten Sports fiasco in 2002. in that respect, it was a huge sigh of relief that wc06 went to espnstar

    in contrast, I’d completely enjoyed WC94 and then again my source of education about players etc. had been sportstar.

    Reply
  • 10. Abhishek  |  July 26, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks, da. I thought it was one of those “i really thought hard about this and i think it makes more sense for people to increase my page hits” kinda decision. Did not realise that you would switch back with such less persuasion 😉

    Anyway, don’t think I mentioned, welcome back to blogosphere!

    Reply
  • 11. Bharath  |  July 26, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    brilliant one.. dennis bergkamp, the best player ever.. i’ve been an arsenal fan from the start, and its all due to bergkamp and henry.. he was masterclass, especially the goals against newcastle, bayer and Leicester city.. nice blog btw..

    Reply
  • 12. neon  |  July 27, 2008 at 4:44 am

    I have the shearer card! Got it by trading a Rajesh Chauhan big fun memorable performance card

    Reply
  • 13. Vinod  |  July 27, 2008 at 7:41 am

    skimpy,

    Deferred Live didn’t really make a difference to me. It’s not like I found out the results from other sources before I saw the games. And the semis and final were live only I think.. But yeah, 2002 punditry was stupid.. 2006 was far far better!

    Reply
  • 14. Vinod  |  July 27, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Abhishek,

    Thanks man!

    Reply
  • 15. Vinod  |  July 27, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Bharath,

    Yeah totally.. Also, there was this assist for Vieira against Leicester in the last game of the ‘invincibles’ season which was just beyond sublime. Couldn’t find the Youtube video. Will post if I do.

    And thanks!

    Reply
  • 16. Vinod  |  July 27, 2008 at 7:52 am

    neon,

    Really? 98 World Cup card? Awesome!

    I really have got to search for mine.. Am very confident I’ve not thrown them away!

    Reply
  • 17. Asif  |  July 27, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Man we both are similar in the sense that we both became Arsenal fans due to the same reasons. I still vividly remeber the goal against Argentina. I had gone out and when I came back the first thing I did was to switch on the TV. Immediately after that the ortega head butt took place and then the goal. It was just an amazing feeling to see him turn Ayala and pump in the goal. Truly mesmeric!!!!

    DB10 is not a Gunner anymore but the memories still remain (Newcastle goal, Leicester hatrick, countless needle passes…..) & hope The Gunners can win something next season.

    Once a Gooner always a Gooner!!!!

    Reply
  • 18. Vinod  |  July 28, 2008 at 7:56 am

    asif,

    The head butt was shocking at that time. Now, after Zidane, it seems alright! 🙂

    Reply
  • 19. Venkatesh  |  July 28, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I too have started rooting for Arsenal…. but 2 people were responsible for that ….one was Thierry henry and the other is ur Arsenal Jersey 🙂

    Reply
  • 20. Diwakar Pingle  |  July 28, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Man United Roolz…

    Reply
  • 21. hantan  |  July 28, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    if it was Dennis Bergkamp for you, it was Thierry henry for me. Arsenal was never the same after these two left.

    Reply
  • 22. Vinod  |  July 29, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Venkatesh,

    Hahaha.. yay! Now I have three!

    Reply
  • 23. Vinod  |  July 29, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Diwakar,

    I have half a mind to delete that comment. 😀

    Reply
  • 24. Vinod  |  July 29, 2008 at 8:43 am

    hantan,

    Yeah, but actually, we were better than the previous year last year! 🙂

    But yeah, Henry = God.

    Reply
  • 25. raj  |  July 29, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    oh that named after wenger bit – i can empathise with that one. I used to think that too 🙂

    Reply
  • 26. Vinod  |  July 30, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    raj,

    I swear! I wonder if there’s anyone else who shares the first five letters with a club he’s been involved with…

    Reply
  • 27. Sujith  |  July 31, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    DB 10 was one of the best players ever to feature in a red and white…nice blog bro, but you need to write more about the Gunners

    Reply
  • 28. Vinod  |  August 1, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Sujith,

    Thanks! And yes, I plan to!

    Reply
  • 29. Adithya  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Been a while since I found an Arsenal Fan in the blogosphere talking about DB10, my favorite Arsenal Player of all time. It is rumored that as an assistant coach at Ajax he’s being groomed to succeed Wenger. I hope that happens because he simply was the best and he’d maintain the class that the Professor has stuck to for so long

    Reply
  • 30. Adithya  |  August 1, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    O and you forgot to mention the one goal that no one else except maybe Zidane can emulate. The flick around Dabizas to score against Newcastle. Legendary.

    Reply
  • 31. Vinod  |  August 3, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Adithya,

    Yes, I’m hoping the same. I believe they share the same vision for football.

    And I did mention that goal. The words ‘UNDESCRIBABLY BRILLIANT’ in the post link to that very Youtube video.

    Reply
  • 32. Adithya  |  August 3, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Lol….yeah….i didnt notice the link…..but the video in your post…..has one of the most exquisite thru balls ever…..at around 2:30…..to henry in the champions league

    Btw….did u watch the juve game?…..i’m waiting to watch the madrid game on sunday……

    juve game was much of the same story of the recent arsenal…..lot of domination….no finishes (adebayor was reallllllly rusty)…..and of course we get screwed by the referee (trezeguet scored the lone goal of the game which was actually offside)

    Reply
  • 33. KK  |  May 31, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I still have all my World Cup 98 bubblegum cards – 48 out of the 50. Reading the backs of those things was what began my football education, and made Predrag Mijatovic and Ariel Ortega my favourite footballers in the world, despite never having watched them play, at the time.
    In the ‘peerless Bergkamp card’, however, the name name is spelt ‘Berkamp’.

    Reply

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