2006-07-24

New Stadium says good bye to Bergkamp

One of Arsenal most popular players, Denis Bergkamp, bade farewell to Arsenal, Ajax and football on Saturday (22/07), when he played his last matche for the Gunners against the club that first made him at Arsenal's new 712-million dollars Emirates Stadium.

In a very touching moment, Bergkamp's testimonial against Dutch giants Ajax attracted a crowd of 54,000, thanking him for 11 years of service to the London team.

In fact, football stars of past and present also turned out to honour the 37 year-old striker, who made 423 appearances and scored 120 goals for Arsenal, and 122 goals in 239 appearances for Ajax.

It's important to say that Arsenal's Emirates stadium in Ashburton Grove finally opened its doors to the paying public on Saturday, two streets away from Highbury - their home of 93 years - and seven years and investment worth US dollars 712-million since the club decided to construct a bigger field.

And there was no better way to begin a new era at the club than to say goodbye to an old one then, as Denis Bergkamp, after 11 years of service to the London club, was granted a testimonial.

Arsenal took to the field against the squad of Bergkamp's youth, Ajax of Amsterdam, and the 37 year-old forward was determined to get on the scoresheet.

We can say that the closest he came in a first half that saw much of the new blood from both clubs though, was as a result of a pass from former Arsenal player Ray Parlour and an attempted chip sailed narrowly over the crossbar.

It was like Bergkamp was destined not to score the first goal at Arsenal's new stadium.

What's more, Ajax went against the script after Bergkamp went off for a breather and a pinpoint cross from Edgar Manucharyan was converted by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with a deft flick in the 40th minute.

The goal did little to dampen the carnival atmosphere though, and after former Arsenal favourites Ian Wright and Patrick Vieira had shared a joke on the touchline, the second half began with both sides fielding a 'Legends XI'.

Thierry Henry has the rare distinction of being a legend while still at the height of his powers and it took the French international just nine minutes to score his first goal at his new home.

And then right back Lee Dixon, another favourite at the old Highbury ground, provided the cross.

Ajax were determined to make a game of it though and Edgar Davids in particular was intent on making his mark.

The former Dutch player broke free and jinked past David Seaman in the Arsenal goal, but Gilles Grimandi was equally intent on stopping him.

According to experts, Grimandi's challenge would have earned him a red card under any other circumstances, but only a penalty was awarded.

His only excuse was that Davids had spent last season at Arsenal's arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

And another Dutch legend, Ronald de Boer stepped up but spooned the spot kick over the bar.

Wright came on for Arsenal to cheer the crowd even more, and a reverential hush fell over the ground when first Johann Cruyff entered the fray, recently voted the best European player of all time and the coach who gave Bergkamp his first chance at Ajax.

Then the current Dutch national coach, Marco van Basten, the player Bergkamp replaced at Ajax, showed a glimpse of his sublime talent - Austrian international Alex Manninger making a fine save.

Then with the clock running down, Nigerian striker Kanu tried his luck from distance, the ball deflected off Jaap Stam and beat Stanley Menzo at his near post to make it 2-0 in the 'legends' match, but even the best efforts of Henry couldn't set up Bergkamp for the coup de grace.

Menzo stood his ground and made a fine save and soon after it was all over.

And then it was over. Bergkamp's final game had gone in Arsenal's favour in the end and emotional day could draw to a close.

There's no doubt that Dennis Bergkamp is now a legend, in the Netherlands as in England.