David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle is a true Arsenal legend. Rocky was a fantastically skilful player who is still a fan favourite today.
Rocastle came through the ranks alongside Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Michael Thomas. He was an incredibly gifted midfielder who could play in the centre of the park or as a winger, where he played most of his career for Arsenal.
Rocastle made his debut in 1984 against Newcastle at 18 years of age and that season went on to make 26 appearances, scoring one goal.
When George Graham arrived at the club, Rocastle was already a permanent member of the starting 11.
Rocastle was a fast, skilful and physically strong player, with a fantastic eye for goal. It was not just about skill either, Rocastle could put in a tackle too. He had great all round ability, the ideal midfielder.
In 1987 he lifted his first silverware in an Arsenal shirt as he played against Liverpool in the League Cup final, Charlie Nicholas scoring both of Arsenal’s goals in a 2-1 win. The season after, in the same competition, unfortunately ended in disappointment as Luton won the League Cup 3-2.
Then came the 88/89 season, with the final game etched in every Arsenal fan’s memory. Rocastle and the Arsenal squad had to go to Anfield and win. But not just win 1-0, which in George Graham years as manager was a popular result. They had to beat Liverpool by 2 clear goals. The media had written off Arsenal and practically already given the title to Liverpool. But that great night Arsenal came away with a 2-0, Alan Smith scoring just before half time and, as we all know, Michael Thomas scoring in the final seconds of the match. Rocastle, along with the rest of the team, were immense that night. Rocky was ever present that year, playing in all 38 matches scoring 6 goals.
Two years later Arsenal won the league title again. However, Rocastle injured his knee and missed most of the season. He still contributed though, playing in 18 matches and scoring 2 goals. Arsenal that year only lost one game all season.
David Rocastle’s final season at Arsenal was the following year. He played in 39 games and scored four goals. Even though he had only missed three games that season, his knee condition was getting worse.
On the players return to preseason training, Rocastle was told that Leeds United had made an offer which the board had reluctantly accepted. George Graham explained that the club had reservations over his knee deteriorating and it was felt the Englishman would lose some of his pace as a result.
For David Rocastle, having come through the ranks of his boyhood club, it was a sad, sad day. Rocky loved the club and the supporters and the club and supporters loved him.
Paul Davis, Rocastle’s ex-Arsenal team mate and childhood friend always felt that Rocastle never got over his departure from the club. He was never the same player.
He went on to play for Leeds, Manchester City, Chelsea (including Norwich and Hull City on loan) and Sabah FC, a Malaysian team. He also played 14 times for England while at Arsenal.
Suddenly in February 2001, it was announced that Rocastle had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer. The following month David Rocastle lost his brave battle. His life was taken away at just 33 years old.
When supporters talk about David Rocastle now you can see their eyes light up, describing they had seen him play against Manchester United when he went on a run just inside the Arsenal half, dribbled past three United men, before chipping in from 25 yards or his powerful strike against Liverpool at Anfield, receiving the ball on the right side of the area before firing home or his goal against Middleborough, as he came inside almost dribbling from the touchline, beating players before scoring in off the post. There are so many more magical moments from a gifted footballer.
Whatever memory we have of Rocastle it’s one of pure skill, a truly fantastic player, who will always be adored by the Arsenal faithful.
He was loved by his teammates, not just for what he could do on the pitch but as a person. He had no ego, and was such a likable person in the dressing room.
Rocastle is known for his famous quote “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent,” a line passed through generations of Arsenal players, but this typified what David Rocastle was all about at Arsenal.
A great man and an incredible player.
Gone, but never forgotten. Thanks for the memory’s Rocky.