There is a track on Miles Davis’ seminal album “Birth of the Cool” called “Rocker”. I was born in 1971, but I’m told that in 1950 it was pretty damn funky. Certain of the more risqué old ladies on the 63 bus I get each morning might even have allowed one a flash of knicker a few years ago when it came on. Listen to it now and I defy you, oh Thatchers dirty children, not to intone “AAAAAND your host tonight ...Ladiesungennelmen... LEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS DENNIS!” . I’m trying to to say that times change. What looked and sounded (and indeed smelled) important then is not only no longer relevant, but downright hilarious.
I must say at this stage that I am discounting postmodernism. We’re all football fans. And there is no place in football for postmodernism (until someone decides to play the long ball game ironically that is). What was then, was then. What is now, is now.
Thierry Henry (Gawd Bless him and all the tiny Henry’s that may issue forth from his loins) is so now that, were he not so well adjusted, he would be getting ahead of himself. I feel so moved to pay tribute in a roman fashion to the conquering-ness of his heroism that were he here in my semi-decorated dining room right now I may go into the garden and fashion a wreath of laurels and anoint the man with oil (Olivio... I’m not made out of money).
One hundred and eighty six. Like a cheque, it has more momentousness if you actually spell out the numbers. (Incidentally have you ever written a cheque and not been entirely sure how to spell “15”? I have written “5ifteen” before now). It’s a moment when crowing Spurs fans and smug Chelsea scum have to cede a small amount of limelight and whilst we faithful float about with an insane grin on our faces. For just a few minutes the football world (that which is normally transfixed for more than of 80 seconds only by their own dining room shot in a Hello photospread) has it’s eyes swivelled away from a potential rape case go-go dancer and on to the exploits of one of it’s senior and most competent practitioners.
Sky, bless their socks, gave half an hour of their programming to celebrating El Tel’s achievement (but be fair - there’d be uproar if Oz Aerobics got shifted). And the striking thing about the worlds number one striker was the way that those myriad stunning goals impress themselves upon the observer when seen together and “of a piece”.
Of course each one is a masterpiece. Were a Henry goal to be bid for on the art market we would be talking unseen Kandinsky territory (somewhat of a deliberate pick that...look at composition No, 6 and tell me that he hasn’t scrawled AFC in the top corner . Kandinsky was a Gooner). But seen together you have to notice something which I can’t say is obvious in a retrospective of the meisterwerk of any other front man in world football. Time literally stands quite still. It is like that moment in Hudsucker Proxy where Tim Robbins failed inventor leaps out of the window and remains suspended above the ground with the hands of the clock stuck at midnight and only his consciousness and the snowflakes around him in motion.
Thierry runs full tilt towards the Danger Area. He is physically strong enough to hold off any challenge and tactically aware enough to offload it, if needs be (remember, when you compare his exploits to any other striker, that a video of Henry’s 100 greatest assists would make a terrific Christmas present for any football fan). But there comes the coup de grace sooner or later. You cannot run endlessly, jinking, with the ball at your feet, until you are consumed by the horizon. There’s a point when you have to shoot.
And at that point, the anticipation of most front men clouds their judgement. We have a prime example in Reyes where all the ability in the world just about gets his index finger into the waistband of a pair of knickers. Of he scores after that, it is effectively an assist and the keeper is a coquette.
The language of surgery takes over when a striker masters that moment. We call it “clinical”. What we refer to is the ability to coldly dissect what is in front of you; a living breathing and still cognitive human being. A certain detachment is required for success. Many the trainee surgeon who has ended his career selling double glazing owing to an impromptu “Ooh did that hurt” moment in major arterial surgery.
So all top strikers have that detachment, sure. What Henry has...and this is just fucking weird...is the ability to to stop actual time (like something out of HG Wells) when the moment comes to pull the trigger. Watch the video (even without the aid of top drawer skunk) and tell me I’m wrong.
To proceed post haste towards the goal at a speed reserved usually for olympic sprinters and ably evade defenders with the ball at your feet is the province of perhaps 1,000 top flight players.
To notice and play perfectly a stone cold goal scoring pass when you could press on is maybe up to 100 truly gifted players.
Maybe 10 players in the world can delay that moment until every single other player on the pitch is emotionally and physically committed.
Only one can have the grace, flair, panache, joie de vivre, va va fucking voom to do it 186 times out of 186.
Now look at the achievements of Ian Wright. He is the only male human being you can love with all the truth, humility and unreserved sheer admiration one reserves (or really ought to) for a wife. And, if you have the right wife, she completely understands and accepts this other love. Any good mate you have will make an genuine exception to the GAYBOY rule (where one has to soak with lager the groin of any chum in the pub hinting remotely - and even by association - at something resembling man-on-man action).
Already his achievements are paling - it hurts to say it. If I am asked, under pain of the squeezing of my small marital bits in an industrial clamp, what was the most significant moment in Arsenals recent history, it is Michael Thomas clip that springs to mind. When I want to recall a flamboyant demonstration of our existential otherness it is Sylvain vaulting Kanu. When I ask myself who personifies Arsene’s playing style and his ability to spot a diamond not so much “in the rough” as “miles form the bleeding golf course”, it is Tel. Juventus may have Vieira. We still have the whip hand when it comes to interrelations with the blancocneri.
I will always love Wrighty. Because he first loved us. No striker has dedicated more goals to the faithful (multimillionaire front men now kiss the badge so often that it is truly curious it makes no inverted impression on the arse of their latest employer). But the king is dead (or at least a dodgy game show host). Henry I is crowned King of England. And if that most prolific of names bears fruit, long live the next 7 generations.