In the first of a new series entitled ‘Cult Heroes’, Conor Heffernan remembers the career of Arsenal’s John Jensen.
Every fan has a hero. Some of us prefer the bulky, powerful centre forward to the small pacey striker. Others a midfield general as opposed to a passing genius. Differences drive the game. Where fans do come together however is in their love of the Cult Hero.
What makes a Cult Hero? Sometimes it can be an inability to cut it at the top level, other times it’s the ability to be consistently sent off in derbies. In our latest series at Pundit Arena we are going to examine some of the greatest Cult Heroes from England’s top twenty Premier League clubs. You’ll know the names, and soon you’ll know the back-story.
How many of us know the name John Jensen, one of Arsenal’s greatest cult heroes. Jensen managed to become a cult hero at Arsenal thanks to one faithful goal. Nowadays when one thinks of Arsenal and goalscoring we conjure up images of Thierry Henry cutting past defenders and coolly placing the ball in the net or Dennis Bergkamp reminding us of the magic of football with his wonder-goal against Newcastle. Heck some of us may even remember Francis Jeffers scoring during Arsenal’s ’02 FA Cup run.
We do not think about John Jensen and yet Jensen is still a cult hero at the Emirates and is adored by fans. This is despite the fact that Jensen or ‘Faxe’, was not known for his goalscoring abilities except for one faithful moment. We’ll come back to that though. First we’ll discover the man behind the myth.
Born in Denmark in 1965, Jensen grew up in Copenhagen with dreams of becoming a professional footballer. A tidy player as a child saw him picked up by Brondby where he was moulded into a central midfielder in their youth academy. By 1983, Faxe was regularly turning out for Brondby, his boyhood club. Oh yes, Faxe was living the dream and things only got better.
The late 1980s were a golden period in Brondby’s history, a time when the club became a dominant force in Danish football, winning several Danish Championships. Faxe was central to this victory and was even voted Danish Player of the Year in 1987, a trophy Michael Laudrup had won only two years previously. It was a seminal moment in Faxe’s career as it was coupled with his first ever cap for the Danish National Team.
1988 saw Faxe move on to Hamburg in Germany but he never really settled there. He was a Danish boy and proud of it. After just two seasons in Hamburg, Faxe said auf wiedersehen to Germany and returned to his beloved Brondby. People thought it was a step backwards for the Copenhagen man. They were mistaken. 44 appearances into his second stint at Brondby it was clear Faxe was still a player to be reckoned with as he helped his side to the semi-finals of the 1991 UEFA Cup. Faxe was on Europe’s radar once more but he would have to wait until the summer of 1992 when a moment changed the course of Faxe’s career.
1992? What happened in the summer of 1992? The European Championships of course and this was a European Championship unlike any other. The break up of Yugoslavia saw her lose her place at the games. Denmark was called in to take her place at the last minute. No one held out much hope for the Danes, many of whom had been on holidays when they heard the news.
Denmark were not supposed to be part of Euro 1992, but that didn’t stop them spoiling it for everyone else. From June 10th to June 26th the World watched in amazement as Denmark not only made it to the final, they also beat a highly favoured German team 2-0 to clinch the tournament. What’s more, our man Faxe, scored Denmark’s first goal in the final. It wasn’t just any goal, but one worthy of winning a Championship.
It was a goal that is still in the minds of all those who witnessed it. It was a wonder-goal. When the final whistle blew, the world watched in anticipation to see where Faxe would end up.
At the same time, Arsenal’s manager George Graham was desperately searching for a central midfielder. The Gunners had been after Geoff Thomas from Crystal Palace to replace David Rocastle who was on his way to Leeds. When Palace turned down Arsenal’s advances for the umpteenth time, Graham began to look North…way North. To Denmark in fact, where John Jensen was plying his trade. Jensen cost the Gunners a cool £1m. Expectations were high.
Jensen hit the ground running at Arsenal. His first season in North London saw the Gunners win an FA Cup and League Cup double in his début season. Sadly Faxe missed out on the finals through injury. Jensen hadn’t scored yet for the Gunners but fans were still optimistic that Jensen would notch up his first goal for the club.
The following season saw Arsenal win the ’94 Cup Winners’ Cup but Faxe was sidelined on the bench through injury. Fans were beginning to wonder about Jensen’s luck. 1995 saw Jensen injury free. Arsenal went on to win nothing in ’95, although they did reach the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup where they lost to Real Zaragoza. By now Faxe had been a Gunner three seasons, and the Arsenal faithful had noticed something remarkable about Jensen.
Fans noticed that Jensen had a blind spot. Every player has one be it a lack of pace or a weak left foot but Jensen’s was much more obvious. He just simply didn’t have an eye for goal…and he knew it. Soon it became Arsenal fan’s favourite game. Every time Jensen got the ball at his feet, no matter where he was on the pitch, Highbury rang out with chants of “Shoooooooot!”. Home and away the fans would sing “We’ll be there when Jensen scores!”
It became one big joke. Until one faithful night when Jensen showed the Gunners that their jokes had only fuelled a fire within him. Picture the scene. It’s December 31st 1994, Arsenal are losing 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers. It’s a drab affair to count in the New Year, but soon something magical happens.
Faxe picks up the ball on the left of the box and dribbles skilfully towards the corner of the penalty area. Arsenal fans know what to do. “Shooooooooooooot!” is the command from the Highbury faithful. Jensen duly obliges, pinging an absolute scorcher into the far top hand corner. Highbury goes berserk. Jensen scores. Jensen scores. Jensen scores! After years he finally notches a League Goal for Arsenal.
Could you believe it? Jensen certainly couldn’t, celebrating like a mad man. It didn’t matter that Arsenal lost 3-1 in the end. All that mattered was that after 98 long matches, Faxe was now an Arsenal goalscorer. Soon Highbury was flooded with t-shirts proudly stating “I Saw John Jensen Score.”
It was to be Jensen’s only goal in an Arsenal career lasting 132 matches. Jensen was soon back to his beloved Brondby. He re-emerged again in England in 2011 as Assistant Manager to Steve Kean at Blackburn but that is a different story for a different day.
December 31st 1994 saw Faxe gain Cult Hero status at Arsenal. Sure he may not have been a prolific goalscorer but he provided fans with something to talk about and something to hope for. That is what the Cult Hero is all about.
Join us next week as we look at an Aston Villa Cult Hero. Can you guess who it is? You’ll have to wait and see.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.