The Wikipedia entry for Dennis Bergkamp–who graced the rosters of Ajax, Internazionale, Arsenal and the Dutch national team in a career lasting twenty years–includes the following notes:
Bergkamp scored three times in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, including a memorable winning goal in the final minute of the quarter-final against Argentina. Bergkamp took a leaping first touch to instantly control a long 60-yard aerial pass from Frank De Boer, brought the ball down through Argentine defender Roberto Ayala’s legs, and finally finished by firing a volley with the outside of his right foot past the keeper at a tight angle from the right.
When I am asked, “Where were you when Bergkamp scored against Argentina?,” I reply: “At home.” In the summer of 1998, in my East Village apartment. (Indulgent in having ordered cable so I could watch the World Cup; till then, I had used my television for movies and disdained cable offerings; but the World Cup rolled around and my resolve weakened.) When Bergkamp scored, seemingly out of the blue, in a game that seemed headed for extra-time and perhaps penalties, I was as stunned as anyone else, transfixed by the soccer artistry on display. I knew I had paid witness to a masterpiece.
It remains one of those classic soccer moments that separates fans from non-fans. The long-time soccer-watcher instantly knows why the goal is a classic; the neophyte is puzzled: “Is that all there is?” Everything Bergkamp did was difficult. Using a “leaping first touch to instantly control a long 60-yard aerial pass” (launched cross-field) is hard enough, but to then move on with the ball past a defender–the ball tapped through the legs!– and to finish with a deft volley “with the outside of his right foot past the keeper at a tight angle”, well-placed enough to score, boggles the mind. And all this, in the 90th minute of a World Cup quarter-final. Against Argentina.
Once a goal becomes “One of the best”, it is fodder for conversation in encounters with fellow soccer fans. Anywhere in the world.
Last year, on Christmas Eve, I found myself in the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico. We drove there in the afternoon from San Juan, and after settling in and unloading luggage, headed out for an evening’s worth of beer drinking and sunset evaluation at Indian Rock. Later, at night, after dinner, we arrived back at our rather humble accommodations to find ourselves sharing them with a Dutch couple, busy polishing off a bottle of wine and a game of cards, as the rain came down in buckets outside. The young Dutchman and I struck up conversation, and then, perhaps inevitably, our talk drifted, first to soccer, and then, somehow, to Bergkamp (as an instance of Dutch artistry not visible in the grim 2010 World Cup final against Spain).
And then, perhaps even more inevitably, to “the goal.” At which point, overcome by beer-induced boldness, I decided to do my best impersonation of Jack Van Gelder’s memorable, Andres-Cantor-surpassing, shrieking call of Bergkamp’s goal, yelling out, “Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! ” My young friend giggled, his long-suffering girlfriend, apparently not a soccer fan, rolled her eyes–as did my wife–and I giggled right back. So we sat there, as the rain came down on the roof, against the windows, the sounds of the rainforest night all around us. And I thought, this is also what great goals are good for: years later, strangers can meet in the middle of a rainforest at night, and indulge in juvenile television commentator impersonations that try the patience of their loved ones.