Euro Blast from the Past: John Jensen
Arsenal fans didn’t know much about their £1.1 summer signing John Jensen before he arrived at Highbury apart from the fact that he could hit a mean strike from outside the box.
The midfielder had shot to prominence, literally, when his wondergoal in the 1992 European Championships final sealed a remarkable 2-0 victory for rank outsiders Denmark against mighty West Germany.
The Danes, who only made the Euros as late replacements for war-ravaged Yugoslavia, became the hottest things in international football - and Jensen would be their representative in north London.
With curly locks reminiscent of a Scandinavian Alan Sunderland and the wispy moustache of a 1970s porn star, he had a distinctive “look” that was destined to turn him into either a Gunners legend or a laughing stock. In fact, he managed to become both.
Jensen arrived from Brondby riding the crest of a Danish wave of euphoria, but he had joined an Arsenal side that was plummeting into the abyss of mediocrity. George Graham’s two-time title winners were still “boring”, but that quality was no longer translating into effectiveness in the league.
Jensen’s signing coincided with the sale of fan favourite David Rocastle and exemplified Graham’s growing preference for industrious midfielders over creative ones. The Dane was one of 12 overseas players to feature on the opening Premier League weekend, with fans on the Gooner 2 Gooner forum recalling Jensen as a “solid” player who “tried hard”.
“He was surrounded by equally limited players in one of the most boring, sterile Arsenal teams I can remember as GG entered his lobotomy days prior to getting the boot,” said one.
Although the Gunners won both domestic cups that season, with Jensen appearing in the FA Cup final replay victory against Sheffield Wednesday, their 10th-place league finish was the joint-lowest since 1976.
And what of Jensen’s deadly shooting from outside the box?
“When GG signed Jensen I thought we were getting a midfielder that regularly hit 25-yard screamers,” said another fan. “We didn’t.”
This was something of an understatement. Despite having the occasional pop at goal, Jensen didn’t score at all in his first season at Highbury. Or in his second.
His lack of cutting edge became something of a running joke, and soon it came to symbolise Graham’s declining team.
“Shoooooot!” yelled the North Bank whenever Jensen had a sight of goal. It was an ironic cry, but it was also borne of a genuine desire to see him score, however implausible that seemed. Jensen was no Rocky Rocastle, but his honest approach had gained him a cult following.
One Gooner claims to have called his pet Labrador “Faxe” in honour of Jensen’s idiosyncratic middle name.
Another confessed, “The one and only time I bought a shirt with a player’s name and number was for Jensen. The club shop staff were so startled by my choice I had to write it down for them, but my plan was to have the shirt covered up and when he finally scored I would reveal it, proudly.”
It was an ambitious, some would say foolhardy, plan. Almost three years and 100 games had gone by and the “goal scoring midfielder” who stunned Europe had still not scored.
But in game 98, he did.
New Year’s Eve 1994 remains a day etched in Highbury history. In fact, it’s about the only day from the 1994/95 season that Gunners fans haven’t blocked out.
Thirty-nine minutes into a match against Queen Park Rangers, Jensen collected the ball near the edge of the box - the familiar, weary “Shooooot” cry rang around the stands - and he obliged, curling one into the top corner in sublime fashion. Highbury was equally shocked and ecstatic.
“One of the wildest crowd celebrations I ever saw,” was how one fan described the joyous aftermath, as Jensen sprinted towards the West Stand with his arms aloft.
The fact that Jensen’s goal came in a 3-1 home defeat to Queens Park Rangers rather summed up Arsenal’s malaise, but it didn’t take any shine of the achievement.
“We were there when Jensen scored,” sang the fans, a chant that was soon translated into a best-selling T-shirt. You might spot an ageing Gooner wearing one at the Emirates to this day.
It was the highlight of a harrowing campaign that ended with Nayim scoring from the half-way line as the Gunners lost to Real Zaragoza in the Cup Winners’ Cup final (Jensen having unluckily missed the previous season’s triumph against Parma in his hometown Copenhagen due to injury) and marked the sour end of Graham’s reign due to a “bung” scandal in which Jensen’s transfer was implicated.
The Dane played another season at Highbury after Graham’s departure before moving back to Brondby, where he remains a hero.
“Most Danish people are of the conviction that he was not at all popular among the Arsenal fans, but that is not my impression from speaking to Gunners supporters,” said a Danish Gunners fan.
After leaving Brondby, Jensen became player-manager at unfancied Herfølge and led them to a sensational championship triumph in his first season. But any hopes that a new Nordic tactical genius had been born were promptly crushed when Jensen oversaw the club’s relegation the following year.
“Today John is a TV commentator and perhaps not the brightest star of the bunch, but I have always respected the man. He doesn’t have any high opinions about himself and was an absolute fighter on the pitch,” the Danish Gooner added.
In north London, he is still best-known as a player who could hit a mean strike from outside the box. Albeit just the once.
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