Obviously, this blog hadn’t been created around the time of the tenth anniversary of David Rocastle’s death last year. I daresay all the below has been covered before elsewhere, but I just wanted to put together a brief tribute as he has become such an iconic image of the modern Arsenal.
It’s probably difficult for younger and newer fans to understand what all the fuss is about, at this time of year when thoughts turn to David Rocastle. His sudden and very early death, at the very young age of 33, was a huge loss to his family and friends, robbed by all accounts of a great husband, dad, brother, etc. Although obviously I didn’t know him or ever speak to him, we had some things in common: he was born a month after me in 1967, we shared the same christian name and love for Arsenal. At the time of his death, I had a young family with one two year old and another one on the way. His death triggered – less intensely of course – some of the usual feelings associated with grief: sadness, shock, some bitterness at his bad luck, and wishing it had been someone else. I’d liken it now to the death of a long lost cousin, who you shared great times with when you were a kid, but as you grow up, you almost inevitably lose touch as life moves on.
It really felt like Rocastle was one of us – a fans’ player. A precocious talent, he had come through the Arsenal ranks, broken into the 1st team, had become a pivotal member of two championship winning sides (he played every game in 88-89). He loved playing for Arsenal, and did so well he went on to play for England 14 times. He played with his heart on his sleeve. He had pace, wonderful skills including brilliant dribbling, and amazing commitment to the cause. He could change a game in a split second. In his heyday, he marauded through opposition defences, and scored beautiful goals: he drove the team forward, and battled to get the ball back. He was a fantastic example to kids – he didn’t ever get in trouble off the pitch (in the Adams, Merson era too). In short, David Rocastle was the epitome of everything that’s good about Arsenal. It really was a big shock when the news broke that he was joining champions Leeds in 1992. Apparently it wasn’t his decision, and he was heart broken and cried his eyes out when George Graham told him in the car park at London Colney that Arsenal didn’t want him any more.
There’s really no point reinventing the wheel, so here’s a youtube montage which includes some of his best/most important goals.
There was a bit of racism still in football back then, that you just don’t see now. John Barnes had joined Liverpool and some bananas were thrown on the pitch at a merseyside derby. I think he was the only black player in either of the squads up there at the time. Arsenal had sent the completely opposite message: we didn’t care about the colour of your skin, we had these three brillant young black players that had all come through the ranks – Rocastle, Paul Davis and Michael Thomas. They were all popular with the fans, they all made it to the top and went on to play for England. I’ve written previously about how important it is for Arsenal fans to have home grown players in the team and these three lads were diamonds, with Rocastle the jewel in the crown.
So when you talk about Arsenal Legends, Rocky is the first modern one to have heard his last final whistle. The way he lost his life so quickly, so tragically and so early had a deep impact on fans. Coupled with that, in what have been trying circumstances, Rocky’s family have always conducted themselves with tremendous resilience and dignity, commanding total respect from the Arsenal family. They have always been shoulder to shoulder with the club and the fans who want to keep his memory alive, when I’m sure sometimes it would have been easier for them to say no.
Here’s another tribute from youtube. In it, Ian Wright talks about Rocky some years later and they obviously were very close mates – he almost breaks down because he misses him so much.
And finally, there’s an excellent 1 stop history here from Mirror online – with some of the newspaper headlines of some of the massive important games that Rocky influenced.
RIP David “Rocky” Rocastle 1967-2001. Arsenal Legend.