He moved like a trick of the light; team-mates said: “If Bergkamp played on snow, he would leave no footprints”.
Yet, his second goal against Southampton in 1995 burst out of the afternoon, almost denting the surface of time; it had all the awful violence of warfare yet all the calm beauty of meditation.
There are countless examples of the Dutchman surrounded by defenders, three or four of them, all snapping away at his ankles, the ball moved gently, hypnotically to and fro until the dance had been completed, and the scene arranged as he had wanted, and only as he had known: then came the swift killer stab of the velvet scorpion, and he was away, twisting and spinning like a shadow in a whirlwind.
How many times did we watch, transfixed with hope and anticipation, as he emerged with the ball and from improbable angles and distances scored goals that simply made you shriek and laugh such was the impudence, the unexpectedness of their delivery: his goal at Filbert Street in ‘97, the third of his exquisite hat-trick that evening; or his winner for the Netherlands against Argentina at the World Cup?
They are goals, moments in time, we all recall with joy and celebration but also with that suspicion that we have witnessed something which will always have an element of mystery – something just beyond the mind’s ability to completely understand. It is in this way that at times his football went beyond simple beauty and became art.
Bergkamp’s goal at Newcastle defies the meagre scope of words to capture. The philosopher Wittgenstein once said that what cannot be talked of must be passed over in silence: Bergkamp’s goal that night came as close to evidencing Wittgenstein’s idea as football ever can: something happened, we all saw it, but you can only turn to your fellow supporter and nod and smile in both joy and disbelief.
The goal he scored at Roker Park in a cup replay, to which, in response, he raised his hand to his mouth in mock surprise and astonishment, was his entire repertoire in microcosm.
Noticeable too that nearly all of his team-mates, some world class footballers, came to celebrate with him: for to be seen in the presence of such talent must be like to be granted a sense of footballing immortality.
Bergkamp is that rare thing, perhaps unique: his is that point of confluence where art, beauty, intelligence, and football meet. You cannot just talk about football when you talk about Dennis Bergkamp!