GunnerTalk Special – Tribute to Rocky Rocastle

Rocky – truly one of our own – will forever remain one of Arsenal’s favourite sons.

R.I.P David Rocastle. Ooh Rocky Rocky, Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocastle.

On this day in 2001, the former England midfielder passed away after losing his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

‘Rocky’ broke into the Arsenal side against Newcastle in September 1985. The first in a line of youth team graduates – including Martin Hayes, Niall Quinn and Martin Keown – to be blooded by under-pressure manager Don Howe, Rocastle made an immediate impact on the right-wing.

The arrival of George Graham at Highbury in 1986 was the real making of Rocastle. He was the fulcrum of a side which took Division One by storm, winning league titles in 1989 and 1991.

He was ahead of his time with his skill and flare but could mix it up and not afraid to put in a challenge; as Tony Adams later commented: “David was more than capable of putting his foot in when needed… he was a massively strong player, with thighs like tree trunks.”

Watch any of Arsenal’s legendary tear-ups of that era and Rocky is usually at the forefront. At Old Trafford in February 1987, he was sent off for retaliating to Norman Whiteside’s overly robust approach. “Not many players came back at me like he did,” Whiteside reflected several years later, “but David had no problems letting me know that he wasn’t to be messed around.”

Rocastle told Shoot readers that he possessed an uncanny ability to “twist my torso the opposite way to my legs… it fools defenders”. The best illustration of that was his slaloming run through the Manchester United midfield and wonderful chip over Peter Schmeichel at Old Trafford during the 1991/92 season.

At Ferguson’s Manchester United in October 1991, Rocky found himself in the midst of the brawl which resulted in Arsenal being deducted two points. He later told Amy Lawrence in Proud To Say That Name: “We went in there and we stuck up for each other. At Arsenal we never, ever started any brawls – we just finished them.”

Amy Lawrence, a former football writer for the Guardian and the Observer posted the sad news on Guardian newspaper 20 years ago:

 This article is more than 20 years old

David Rocastle dies at 33

English football has lost a player who was a joy to watch, Arsenal have lost a beloved son and I have lost an unforgettable friend. They say you should never meet your heroes – David Rocastle disproved that theory in a big way.

Having admired him from the terraces as a teenager, when I later got to know him I found the man as delightful as his talent. His love for football, and for life, was infectious. George Graham described him, simply, as a ‘lovely boy’. His ready smile and relentless enthusiasm could never be dimmed.

As a player he is best remembered for his time at Arsenal, where his flair and imagination created a buzz in the side which won League Championships in 1989 and 1991. The club cherished him as one of their own and he, indeed, always regarded them as his second family. Rocastle’s father had died when he was only five, and when he joined them as a boy he flourished under their guidance. Pat Rice, youth team coach at the time, recalls asking his young charges how many thought they would make it. Only one hand went up. ‘I will,’ replied Rocastle. Ultimately, he would make it as far as the England team.

He grew up among a vintage group of homegrown talent which included Tony Adams, Michael Thomas, Paul Merson and Niall Quinn. After making his debut at the age of 18, he soon won the Arsenal Player of the Year award.

Rocky, as he was known, enjoyed his finest hour in 1989, when Arsenal won the league at Anfield with the last kick of the season. He recalled how he asked the referee how long there was to play after his best mate Thomas had scored the decisive second goal. He thought there was 20 minutes. The ref said 30 seconds. Rocky’s knees turned to jelly.

That season he was also honoured as the best young player in the country. He perhaps might have won more honours had he not been plagued by injury. George Graham sold him in 1992 over concerns about the state of his knees, and Rocastle became a record signing for both Leeds United and Manchester City, before moving on to Chelsea, where he found it difficult to break into the team. He left Stamford Bridge in 1998.

To those who wrote him off he had a proud answer: ‘Whatever happens in life from now on no one will be able to take away what I achieved. People always say you can’t live in the past. Rubbish. You can’t live in the past while you’re still playing but after you’ve finished no one will be able to take away the fact that I played that night at Anfield in ’89.’

Frustrated by his lack of opportunity at Chelsea he went to Malaysia, where he played until falling ill. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February and died early yesterday, at the heartbreakingly young age of 33. He is survived by his wife Janet and their three young children.

Curtesy of Guardian Newspaper and FourFourTwo.com

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GunnerTalk

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