Thirteen years ago today, The Arsenal lost a great man.
On 31st of March 2001, David Rocastle lost his battle to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It had only been February 2001 that he announced he was suffering from cancer. It came as a shock to many. For a lot of fans, he was part of their growing up, part of them.
Rocky was part of what was perhaps the greatest generation of youth players that Arsenal has ever produced. Graduating into the senior squad with the likes of Tony Adams, Niall Quinn, Martin Hayes, Paul Merson and Michael Thomas.
The first time David Dein saw him play, he informed his wife “I’ve seen a boy in our youths that can dribble like a Brazilian. And he`s from Lewisham!”
Making his first team debut at 18 in a 0-0 draw against Newcastle, his debut was described as: “David passed when he should have shot, and shot when he should have passed, but he’s a going to be a great player!” I feel he would have fitted in perfectly to the current Arsenal side! He went on to make 277 appearances for the club, scoring 34 goals.
Despite his first season being curtailed by a knee injury – a problem that would be ongoing throughout his career – The North Bank knew they had a new star.
A man of the match performance and winning goal in the League Cup Semi-Final against Spurs at just 19 made him an instant hero. The boy hood Arsenal fan was well on his way to becoming an Arsenal legend.
‘Rocky’ was not just a great player, but also a gentleman. He was an Arsenal man. He knew what is meant to pull on the red and white. He knew the history of the club. He knew what he represented. He knew who he was.
It was his love for the club which meant he did not become a big time Charlie. Did not grow to big for his boots. A modern day player would become arrogant, aloof, with the talent he had. Rocky did not. He would cover every blade of grass. Close down his opponent, win the ball. He had everything.
Sadly, his ongoing knee injuries meant that he never became the world class player he was destined to become. Despite making 39 appearances in 1991/92, he had not reached the same standard as before his injury. In the summer of 1992 he was sold to Leeds.
Rocastle recalled later, “I sat in my car and cried. Playing for The Arsenal was all I ever wanted to do”. That sums Rocky up in his own words. Arsenal was his everything. after Leeds, he went on to play for Manchester City, Chelsea, Norwich and Hull. Every supporter of each club will have their own fond memories of him.
Injuries meant that he never reached the level he was at before his injury in the early 90s, and he retired at just 31 in 1999.
Rocky passed away on the morning of the North London Derby on March 31st 2001. It is a testament to the man that later that afternoon, during the minute’s silence, the 3,000 visiting Spurs supporters were silent. Not a peep. The respect they showed to him that afternoon by their silence, moved (and surprised) many an Arsenal fan, and hows that, despite rivalries, every football fan can recognise a genuinely nice guy who has been taken away from us early. Even those from N17.
33 is no age to go. He left behind his wife, son and 2 daughters. His son Ryan was Arsenal’s mascot in the 2001 FA Cup Final against Liverpool.
Rocky might be gone, but he will never be forgotten.