Admit it. One of the most divine goals of even Thierry Henry's fabulous career couldn't have failed to provoke a profanity of admiration, could it? Surely that studied dispatch of the ball which described an arc around the Sparta Prague goalkeeper, Jaromir Blazek, followed by another goal to expunge Ian Wright's club record of 185, could not have failed to stir even the most curmudgeonly of those followers of Arsenal's rivals?
But what can be read into the fact that the striker, possibly the most expressive French mime artist since Marcel Marceau, should immediately beat an open-handed rhythm on his shirt's Arsenal crest? If this was a symbol of intent that he plans to extend his allegiance to Arsenal, the Highbury set will rejoice. If he declines to accept a new contract next summer, then they should send him on his way, probably to Spain, with their gratitude.
Now in his seventh season at Highbury, with the club undergoing a post-Vieira reformation, Henry can be excused for suffering from a slight itch. The player, procured for £10.5m from Juventus in 1999, will be 29 next summer. Whatever his future, they have witnessed his pomp.
Henry will have more than served his time; no less than Johnny Haynes did during his 18-year stint at Craven Cottage. Four decades separate them. Yet, just as Henry extracts riches from resources that the rest of us could only contemplate by delving deep into our most fertile imaginations, so 45 years ago, we would only deliver the ball 50 yards with the weighted perfection of a Johnny Haynes in our most exquisite fantasies.
He was never a man for self-glorification; the explanation for an entire English career in the service of Fulham. He was the catalyst for maintaining, to a significant degree, the Cottagers' First Division existence. In a sense, his presence could be likened to Henry's vital contribution to Arsenal's accumulation of honours. As Haynes once candidly explained: "When they lifted the maximum wage in 1961 [thanks to Jimmy Hill], Fulham made me a good offer... and I suppose I lacked a bit of ambition."
Perhaps that explains why, in an age when honours are bestowed upon celebrities and sportspeople sometimes on the most tenuous of pretexts, Haynes, notwithstanding his 56 England caps, should have departed this world without a letter of commendation to his name.
His impact on football, on and off the field, could not be doubted, however. The irony possibly was not lost on Haynes, who died last week, aged 71, that the salary argument has turned full circle. He shattered the artificial wage ceiling, and probably chairman Tommy Trinder's budget, too, with the £100 a week gratefully offered and received. Its repercussions have permeated through to today. No wonder some of Trinder's modern-day counterparts are calling for a renewal of the wage cap. The old music hall showman could not have known that his catchphrase "You lucky people" could have been written for today's élite players.
My first sight of Haynes was as a vivid black-and-white image amid the flickering grey of my old primary-school headmaster's TV one afternoon. Watching the national football team was deemed by the head to be part of our education.
The picture was dominated by the beautifully balanced, imperious figure of inside-forward Haynes, fashioning openings constructed within a brain that contained a compass and protractor. And just occasionally, standing hand on hip, his long-suffering look was a chastening experience for the wretched team-mate who had not interpreted his thinking.
His suave, wholesome image transcended the game and was responsible for launching a lucrative commercial trend: He's always right on the ball. And right on the top, too. Thanks to Brylcreem, the voice-over informed us. It is a process from which many players today benefit, and none more so than Henry, who emerged as the public face of Renault. For the foreseeable future, you can't help but assume he will continue to be the saving grace of Arsenal.
Football should stop living in fear of itself
As soon as you saw the footage of David O'Leary marching across the St Andrew's pitch to acknowledge his chairman, Doug Ellis, after Aston Villa's victory, the response was predictable. On a radio phone-in he was deemed a "disgrace" and was later "reminded of his responsibilities" by the FA. Your initial inclination is to agree. But then you ask yourself why. Because it's provocative? Most reasonable fans' reaction would have been to laugh or hurl some verbal witticism at him. Anyone who would be inflamed enough to chin him has a problem which should be addressed individually. Yet football is still administered on the basis that we are all potential miscreants, who should be patronised by being segre-gated, banned from consuming alcohol and made to watch matches that kick off at ludicrous times on "police advice". This summer's Ashes series should have taught us that sport doesn't have to be like that. We are all aware of the hooliganism and worse of the past. But isn't it time the game emerged from a state of being in fear of itself? The Crystal Palace chairman, Simon Jordan, opined: "If you say things are shit long enough, things will be shit". He had a point.
Evidence of new technology is too unreliable
That old why-don't-we-employ-new-technology debate was reopened like an infected wound at Wigan last weekend, with Newcastle's Alan Shearer claiming his headed "equaliser" had crossed the line. TV evidence suggested it had, but was inconclusive. But before we all get carried offon the wave of Shearer's revolutionary zeal, it should be stressed that what TV evidence did prove was that Shearer gave Wigan's Arjan de Zeeuw the most obvious shove since Nat Lofthouse was about. Sorry, but the use of technology would not begin and end with a straightforward answer to the question: "Has the ball crossed the line?" There would soon be pressure to extend it, and like Wigan's manager, Paul Jewell, in this case, declare: "Let's look at what happened immediately before the header." No doubt Neil Warnock would have done the same on Friday night after his excellent Sheffield United earned a valuable Champion-ship point at Leeds. He complained about the Leeds goal, because in the build-up he "wasn't satisfied with the position a throw-in was taken". Before becoming a disciple of the technology faith, we should remember the complexities that a so-called "simple solution" can create.Reuse content