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Black History Month: My Football Icon with Garath McCleary

25 October 2022

Regrets can often come in the form of missed opportunities and for Wycombe Wanderers’ Garath McCleary, that rings true.

The 35-year-old, the proud owner of a signed Arsenal jersey, once had the opportunity to meet his football idol some time back but his own nervous nature when faced with the one and only Thierry Henry held him back.

During Black History Month, McCleary recalled his first experience of coming face to face with the former Gunners striker.

“There was a concert – I think Kevin Hart was playing at the O2 – and he was in the box next to us,” he said. “Everyone noticed that it was him

“It was the only time I’ve really been starstruck and I didn’t really want to speak to him. So many people were getting photos, but I was literally starstruck at the back of the room. It was definitely something that I regret now, looking back.”

But luckily, McCleary has some better memories to replace his missed chance at having his photograph taken with Henry.

“My greatest memory of Thierry Henry was his goal against Tottenham where he dribbled from inside his own half, took it past a couple of players and shot left-footed into the side netting,” he remembered. “He did his iconic celebration where he knee slid at the other end of the pitch.”

When the Frenchman first arrived in North London in August 1999, he had to adapt his game, but it was his early style of play that McCleary used to shape his own professional football career.

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“He played on the wing, then transitioned to centre-forward,” he explained. “I don’t think at the beginning it was a very good start for him, but you could see with the way that he played and the confidence that he built that he was going to be a fantastic player for the team.

“Playing on the wing which he’d done earlier on in his career, he would always drift out onto the left-hand side and create overloads on the left, even when he played up front. When I played up front when I was younger, I definitely tried to do that and incorporate that into my game.

“I saw some characteristics in terms of speed and trickery that I could take into my game as well. There are so many things he’s done that have had a positive influence on my career.”

And the Chairboys winger wanted so much to be like his idol that he even wore his kit the same way.

He continued: “What made Thierry Henry so special was his elegance on the pitch – his speed, his power, and his charisma. There are so many things that I could take from him. He used to always hang out on the left-hand side which I tried to do when I was younger.

“I also remember pulling up my socks and tying them up over my knees just like he did, and I think he was the first one that started that.”


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