Sunday, July 14, 2024
Sunday, July 14, 2024

Derek Gebhard: Talismanic

Sunday, January 21, 2007 – Madison, WI

It’s just before lunchtime, and I’m sitting on the bed of my childhood room, having moved back in with my parents the August previous to save money for my upcoming wedding. The fan on my dinosaur of a laptop is working overtime trying to keep up with a shaky Justin.TV stream. It’s emitting a sound I can only describe as a small jet engine, and the bottom of my rig is so goddamned hot I’m having to move it from thigh to thigh just to avoid burning myself. It’s winter in Wisconsin, the frosted-over sliding glass door on my bedroom staving off the low-20s temps outside (F, that’s -4C), and I’ve got the sheets pulled over me and my laptop like a kid up past bedtime reading a comic book.

The heroes of this story weren’t superhuman, but they certainly retain that status in my head. Arsenal were down 1-0 to Manchester United at the Emirates with only 10 minutes left, and I was sweating bullets (not solely due to my legs being slowly melted off), but it was looking like Wayne Rooney’s diving header at 53′ would be the deciding factor in the game. In the 83rd minute, Tomáš Rosický would pick out a cross for Robin Van Persie and bring the game square. Then, with less than a minute left in added time, Emmanuel Eboue would float a ball in from the right flank to an unmarked Thierry Henry whose header found the back of the net.

Goosebumps. Chills. Limbs and sheets and a laptop went flying. A true moment of magic, especially as the English sporting press had been painting this game as a guaranteed win for United, who at the time were 6 points clear at the top of the table. And while that comeback wouldn’t mark any sort of turning point for Arsenal’s season, it at least offered a glimmer of what these players, especially an Invincible like Henry, were still capable.


Merriam-Webster defines the word Talisman as, “something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects”

We might have borrowed talisman from French, Spanish, or Italian; all three include similar-looking words for a lucky charm. Those three terms derive from a single Arabic word for a charm, tilsam. Tilsam in turn can be traced to the ancient Greek verb telein, which means “to initiate into the mysteries.” While the word talisman, in its strictest use, refers to an object, even a human being can be considered a talisman—such as a player on a team whose mere presence somehow causes magical things to happen. [source]

It’s been a few months, and football/soccer fans have a reputation for incredibly short memories, but on June 1 in Fort Lauderdale, Derek Gebhard produced a moment of magic that brought about those same goosebumps. And while yes, we were down 2-1 and a winner would have been ideal, a piece of skill followed by a brutally efficient and stylish finish produced a moment that will be burned into my mind for some time.

A brilliant team goal as well, played from the back in the style Carl Craig spoke about before the season’s start. Tobin > Molloy > Jepson, who then played a well-weighted pass to Gebhard on the right flank, whose right foot must have a magnet on it because that first touch calls to mind one of the great first-touch masters. Gebhard plays the ball into the 18 yard box, cuts inside, takes one step-over to dummy Noah Allen, then fires a curling shot which bends around Ethan Hardin. Zamudio dives to save it far post but is inches short. 2-2 game.

I must have watched that first touch and the finish a hundred times the next day, each time seeming even less real. I saw it happen, I know it happened, but the level of skill and presence of mind to receive the ball on the inside of your foot, while running, mid-stride, then to do those defenders dirty like that? Maybe Derek’s got a magic amulet tucked inside that shirt, and maybe it was early in the season when getting a draw on the road wouldn’t have felt like a loss. Whatever the cause, it was motherfucking magic.

And I, for one, believe the magic is still there. It’s just begging to be let out.


  • Andrew Schmidt

    Eclecticist, FMFC supporter, Flock co-founder, designer of things, and taker of photos. Writer, wrench, motorcyclist. Pro-intellectualist, anti-pedant. Drinker of coffee and greeter of dogs.


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  1. In person, live, it was insane to see. I couldn’t believe my eyes that the ball just stuck with such little effort and with him keeping his head up to see what to do next.


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