Words: Harry Harris
Image: Offside Sports Photography
This piece originally appeared in Issue 15 as part of our 'My Greatest Shirt' series.
Marc Overmars didn’t exist, and then I invented him.
I know, technically, records will show he played for Ajax between ‘92 and ‘96, but that can’t be true, because between those years he was running the wings for me on my Mega Drive. Terrorising defenders, skinning whoever dared try and tackle him. Cut inside, top corner, bang. Every time. “This Overmars is good,” I remember my brother telling me once. “Yeah, isn’t he?” The next week, he was at Arsenal. He had leapt from the confines of the Mega Drive cartridge and was now made flesh like Tron meets Escape to Victory. And he was in yellow.
Some context: It’s 1998, and I’m nine years old, and, on this day, I’m walking on the hill behind my house in mid-Wales. The hill is now covered in other houses, but back then it was a pretty easy day out —nice views, good sledging when it snowed, kick a ball around on the flat bit at the top. I’m there with my dad, and I’m aware Arsenal are playing United that day, and that it’s important. All the interconnecting pieces—the rivalry, the title, Wenger v Fergie—haven’t fallen into place yet in my head. I just know that I’m the only one in my year who supports Arsenal, so Arsenal winning gives me great bragging rights Monday morning.
I’m resigned to waiting until Match of the Day to find out the result—going to look away when the scores flash up on the news and everything—but we run into someone on the hill, a friend of dad’s, a United fan, who tells me. “1–0, Overmars”. My Marc Overmars. He must have done it like I told him too. Up the wing. Terrorising defenders. Skinning whoever dared try and tackle him. Cut inside, top corner, bang.
Because Arsenal players really do The Most when they wear yellow. Michael Thomas wins the league at Anfield with the last kick of the last game of the season. Andrey Arshavin scores four goals at the same stadium, without seeming to break sweat. Sylvain Wiltord wins us the league at Old Trafford, he and Kanu up front, Henry and Bergkamp both injured. Robin van Persie at The Valley with a volley that by-rights should be impossible. Martin Keown with the flying elbow to Ruud van Nistelrooy’s spine. There’s a weight of history there—the one patterned all over with busy, dark blue chevrons; the Day-Glo neon variety with O2 on the front; the darker, more golden colour they have opted for in recent years; and this one, with the big navy stripe that split in two halfway around, and the red tinting on the sleeves.
I’ve always liked away kits. Nice to have a change. Nice to shake things up. No matter how much a club is tied to their away colours, there’s always a bit of a skivvies, non-uniform day vibe to an away kit. Our home one that season had that old-fashioned regality to it, that big gilded A on the shorts, still. The away kit felt more relaxed, unfussy.
The thing about that yellow shirt, as I watched the team line up on the telly later, way past bedtime, safe in the knowledge that it would all be worth it, is that no player wore it the same way. Vieira has it louchely tucked in on one side. Petit wears it long, the bottom of it stopping barely above his knees, obscuring the 17 on his shorts. Tony Adams and the back four are all tucked in. You have never seen a more tucked in back four. The old guard, watching this new team being built around them, like the facade of a listed building that you’re legally not allowed to tear down. A reverse mullet of a team, party at the front and all business at the back.
Overmars wears it differently too, wears it like he knows the talismanic quality that runs through each of its stitches. He knows this on that day because he does not stop running. Every time he gets the ball—left wing, right wing, doesn’t matter—he goes right at the defence, who don’t know how to do anything but back off. He nearly gets one in from a tight angle after rounding Schmeichel. He gets on the end of a Petit pass, on the other side of John Curtis, and should get a penalty. He dribbles between Gary Neville and Henning Berg in the box and just hits the side netting. And then, long ball from Keown, big header from Bergkamp, knockdown by Anelka, and Overmars is there. Little header into the space, and then one shot into the bottom corner. The first Premier League goal Arsenal score at Old Trafford. In glorious yellow.
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