Football fans can be fickle at times but when they truly embrace a player, the attachment becomes more than a collection of standout moments or goals, it’s emotional and lasting. In fact, some players reach deep into the fan base psyche to symbolise what supporters themselves feel about their club, with the player managing to transcend the club football shirt with what and who they are taking on a completely new identity. That’s entirely true of David Rocastle, who passed away 20 years ago this week.
David Rocastle was the embodiment of a professional and dedicated sportsman but he also felt like a die-hard and passionate fan at the same time, giving everything he had and performing to the highest level. If Rocastle had his way, there’s little doubt that he would have played for only one club his entire career, and the fact that he couldn’t hurt him deeply to the point where he never really showed the same promise again.
He was better than most in the clubs that followed, yet his transfer from Arsenal to Leeds in 1992 was a surprise to fans and teammates alike and marked the end of his top-flight career at the age of 25. He spent the first season in a Leeds Jersey trying to find his way and deal with the shock that he was no longer an Arsenal player.
⏪ 20 years ago today David Rocastle, one of English football's most exhilarating talents and a universally popular person, tragically passed away, aged 33 ?
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) March 31, 2021
Before he left North London, there were the whispers of knee issues and stalled contract negotiations. Some say that manager George Graham had issues with a knee problem, others that Rocastle wanted better terms, this is all irrelevant now and is no more than a curious end to what had been a fabulous Arsenal career.
You can bet that when a large group of fans assembles after a match to reminisce about the past, someone will mention the midfielder by name and many still recall his excellence in the shirt and the day he passed away at 2 pm the 31st of March 2001.
Many will tell you that David Rocastle was not only a naturally talented footballer but also that he was that rare commodity, an immensely gifted player with excellent technical ability. He had confidence in his array of skills, he was a winner and a role model for others including Ian Wright.
Rocky as fans called him was as close to a club icon as you could possibly get and perhaps, that was a source of tension with his manager who had an aversion to the ‘star’ player. George Graham was about the team, which was perversely at odds with the flamboyant midfielder that he once was dressed in sharp suits at various high-profile parties.
Rocastle by comparison was a quiet, dignified, and immensely humble man who would work incredibly hard to achieve success. He had the skills of a Brazilian as David Dein once noted, but he could also dig deep to deliver battling performances and he typified the change in direction for the club as it looked to its academy players to reinvent itself, strangely similar to today.
Rocastle became the lynchpin in midfield, a driving force but so much more. If Rocky was in the side, Arsenal could find a way through, past any difficult opponent because he bled for the shirt. It was noticeable that once Rocastle left the club, the fortunes of Arsenal and Graham went into decline simultaneously. All three components would appear to be as important as a whole and without one, the others ceased to function as they had together.
“Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent” was the famous Rocastle quote and it was shown on the big screens at Arsenal during the match that commemorated the 12th anniversary of his death.
Never forgotten, a true inspiration, rest in peace Rocky.