Dennis Bergkamp, one of Arsenal's greatest modern-day players, recently released his much awaited autobiography which gives a very interesting insight into his personal life and his football life. There is one particular aspect of his autobiography which caught our eye, his comments on his much publicised and well-documented fear of flying. This is not something we hear about in the modern era with sports stars flying around the world but Dennis Bergkamp grew such a phobia of flying that it was written into his contract that he would not have to fly to away games.
Background to Dennis Bergkamp's phobia
Joining Arsenal as a superstar Bergkamp only made one stipulation in his contract talks that he would no longer fly on aeroplanes. Initially his phobia was not highlighted by the press, or made public knowledge, but very quickly it became apparent that he was physically unable to travel to away games via aeroplane. The fact that his club were well aware of the situation from day one meant little in the way friction even though there were many occasions when the team could have done with Bergkamp on their European travels!
Many flying phobia sufferers will relate to the revelation that initially Dennis Bergkamp had no problem with flying although it seems that a number of uncomfortable experiences changed this.
Developing a fear of flying
Dennis Bergkamp himself highlights the fact that his phobia developed due to difficult experiences as well as the exhaustion he suffered after the 1994 World Cup finals. It is believed that his club at the time, Internationale, demanded he returned to training within 10 days of returning from the World Cup finals in 1994 with players allegedly crammed into relatively small aeroplanes for their awayday travels.
The player highlights yet another phobia which many believe is highly relevant to a fear of flying, i.e. claustrophobia. Phobia sufferers will also relate to the feeling of exhaustion which many experts believe makes more people susceptible to long-term phobia development. It seems as though his exhaustion after the 1994 World Cup finals led to a gradual reluctance to fly in relatively small planes. This fear grew and grew and eventually he could take no more and, as we mentioned above, he had his fear of flying written into his contract with Arsenal football club.
The fear of fear
In many ways the experiences of Dennis Bergkamp perfectly illustrate the fear of fear which can take over and emerge as a potentially debilitating phobia. In his heyday it was relatively unheard of for sporting superstars to have a flying phobia and indeed there were occasions when "relatively near" European games saw him travel by alternative transport. However, it very quickly became apparent this was not a long-term solution and indeed many believe it may have aggravated his injury record over the years.
It was also interesting to see that during contract talks Arsenal football club seemingly negotiated a reduction in his salary demands simply because he would be unable to play in European away games. The player himself seemed to acknowledge the reasons behind his pay cut and it is obvious from his autobiography that he looks back on his time at Arsenal with great fondness.
There is no doubt that hearing the experiences of sporting superstars and their fear of activities such as flying help others. It perfectly illustrates that phobias have no particular social class, no particular age group and can hit anybody at any time. The fact that Dennis Bergkamp was able to enjoy an extremely successful football career, still remembered as one of Arsenal's greatest players of all time, perfectly illustrates how it is possible to overcome phobias and be successful.