Today is Rocky’s birthday and if he were not looking down on us from Highbury in the sky he’d have been 45. It’s little wonder that Rocky lives on in the hearts of thousands of Gooners after his tragic passing from cancer.
He epitomised the fighting spirit of the era under George Graham and his energy, drive and amazing natural ability endeared him to fans from the Clock End to the North Bank.
Yes, he was a gifted international footballer who enjoyed celebrity status playing on the biggest stages in front of huge crowds. But, somehow, despite the obvious trappings of the lifestyle, we knew Rocky was one of us.
To a man we can remember the special moments Rocky helped provide for us. Who can forget his first silverware as a mere 20-year-old when we won the League Cup with a triumph over Liverpool at Wembley in 1987?
Two league titles came his way while he was turning out for the rip-roaring reds, most famously, of course, the etched-in-the-memory victory in our glory night at Anfield in 1989.
Looking back I now have the feeling that while winning is pretty much everything to professional sportsman, Rocky kind of transcended medals-on-the-table bravado and I can recall a chance meeting I had with him that helps me, in my mind at least, back this theory up.
I am not saying Rocky wasn’t a born winner, who thrived on plaudits and glory alike. Of course he was and he must have done. But if you had to conjure up a player you could say was Arsenal personified it is he. In other words, he’d have put the same shift in, made the same mazy runs and cracked home the same goals for the cause just for the honour of wearing the famous red and white. He had Arsenal DNA.
I mentioned memories and I was lucky enough to have witnessed first hand that stunning miracle on Merseyside when we pulled off the most dramatic title win in the history of English football.
Rocky’s contribution was immense in front of 41,000 fans and a TV audience of millions but my favourite recollection of the great man came at a wind-swept, empty Craven Cottage some years later when, I think he was with Chelsea, though I can’t state that as fact.
Pulling on my Arsenal anorak I’d pitched up at Fulham to see our reserves play and was pleasantly surprised to find Rocky’s brother, Stephen, was in the home team’s line-up.
The game was average at best and I found my eye wandering to handful of brave souls who, like me, had decided to view this clash of the second strings. And there he was. Sitting on his own minding his business was Rocky bloody Rocastle, obviously there to lend some support to his sibling.
I was desperate to join him but was mindful of his ‘space’ and didn’t want to alienate one of my all-time heroes with unrequited attendance. So I left it until the end of the game – I think we lost 1-0 – and approached him offering my hand and appreciation for all his efforts for the Arsenal.
They say never meet your heroes and, obviously, this is because all of your illusions will be shattered when you find that instead of Mr Nice Guy he is in fact an egotistical maniac.
Not Rocky. He was charming, engaging and seemed genuinely happy to chinwag all things Arsenal. What struck me was his generosity of spirit, his humility, and kindness.
And it is those attributes that result in so many Arsenalista keeping Rocky’s memory alive in a manner so deserving of such a legend. He will always be in Arsenal hearts.
Happy birthday from us all, Rocky…RIP.
Picture shows me and Rocky on a previous occasion to that written about.
CARL ELDRIDGE – On Twitter now and again but don’t say a lot @eldomedia