By Tony Attwood (with profound thanks to “The Gunners” by Richard Lerman and David Brown).
The greatest hat trick by an Arsenal man? Who knows. That’s the problem with digital television – it wasn’t invented early enough.
But if it were possible to go back in a time machine, the hat trick on 27 August 1997 by Dennis Bergkamp is surely going to be in the top three, if not securely finding its place in the top one. Yes of course Ted Drake scoring seven on 14 December 1935 also deserves a mention, but I don’t know enough about each goal to rate them in quality. In quantity Ted wins hands down. In quality?
To give a bit of context for the Bergkamp treble, in the 1977/8 season Arsenal signed Upson, Grimmandi, Boa Morte, Overmars, Petit, Manninger… Merson went to Middlesbrough. Overall the season went rather well, as you probably know.
We started out on 9 August 1997, away to Leeds. The result was 1-1, with Wright scoring. Wright scored the next two as well, at home to Coventry City on 11 August which left him one goal away from equalling Bastin’s record for the number of goals. But it didn’t come at once, as Dennis Bergkamp got two and Marc Overmars got his first, in the next match against Southampton away, on on 23 August.
So two wins and a draw as we went to Leicester. Wright must have fancied his chances as Leicester had been a mid-table side in 1996/7 although to be fair they were going well at the start of the new season having had wins against Villa and Liverpool (away) and a 0-0 draw with Manchester United.
The table showed Blackburn top, followed by Arsenal, Man U, and Leicester. (It is perhaps interesting to pause for the benefit of people who think that the first results of the season is vital. Arsenal ended up top, Man U second, Liverpool – already beaten by Leicester as we have noted – came third, Blackburn sixth and Leicester 10th).
But back to this day, Leicester v Arsenal. Bergkamp was booked on 8 minutes for nothing much at all. Then he scored the first. In the second half he lobbed the keeper when it looks like the ball is getting away from him. But it is the third goal that stands out in the annals of history. Ball over the shoulder, a controlling take down, a dummy for the sake of the defender, a touch and a ball into the corner.
To try and even things up the ref let play go on until the 96th minute and the match was drawn as Leicester took the advantage the ref gave. Arsenal players protested at the extra six minutes, Wright was booked for touching the ref, and the media focussed on that rather than the football. At least Martin O’Neill had the grace to admit that when Bergkamp scored the third it was all he could do to stop himself applauding.
- Season openings can be so frustrating
- Jérémie Aliadière; helped expose the rise of dubious refereeing
- Tommy Docherty; Arsenal player, jobbing manager
- Lionel Smith; Arsenal 1939 to 1955