There have been many that have made it from Arsenal’s academy to the first team and many that have shone brightly in Red and White, but David Rocastle (Rocky) has an emotional affinity with the majority of supporters that has never diminished.
Few are unfamiliar with his name because he became synonymous with the club due to his passion and undeniable talent. Rocastle was not only an extraordinary player but he was also a role model and an influencer to emerging prospects.
David Rocastle is a name that is still mentioned during discussions in pubs before and after matches, when Arsenal fans talk about favourite players or the best players in an Arsenal shirt. The attacking midfielder who proudly wore the number 7 from 1987/91 was seen by vice-chairman David Dein in training. He quickly ran to call his wife and said excitedly:
“I’ve seen the nearest thing to a Brazilian footballer you’ll ever see and he’s from Lewisham.”
He was incredibly special and for those of us lucky to witness him in the flesh. It’s only a matter of time before
he takes his place outside the Emirates in statue form.
Putting aside the emotions, which is always difficult, Rocky was a player that had exquisite vision and was blessed with a truly beautiful touch. He was a dedicated, determined professional, who gave everything he had and he didn’t hold back. He loved winning and playing for Arsenal.
My standout memories of David Rocastle was his goal for Arsenal against Manchester United in 1991/92. He picked the ball up in his own half and powered forward, ignoring the attention of at least two United players, with another three ahead of him. He then unleashed a shot which had the great Peter Schmeichel backpedaling at speed and at full stretch. It struck the underside of the bar and as a further insult, went in off the back of the stranded keeper. It was as good as anything you’ll ever see.
Before that, his solo against Middlesbrough in 1988/89 was another peach. He picked the ball up out on the right, posing no obvious threat with Middlesbrough’s defenders seemingly caught in the headlights. He cut inside on a diagonal run and evaded every attempt to stop him. In seconds, he found himself in the box with four players ahead of him, he sweetly snapped his rising shot into the right of the net.
David Rocastle had achieved iconic status with Arsenal’s epic win over Liverpool at Anfield (89). He displayed the spirit of the George Graham era, a playmaker with a fighting spirit who could make the impossible possible.
His Arsenal career ended surprisingly at the age of 25 in 1992, after helping Ian Wright win the Supporter’s Player of the Year. Injuries had been a problem and he’d battled back in typical Rocastle style, but it’s said that George Graham had identified a weakness in Rocky’s knee and as a result, he promptly moved him on to Leeds.
It was a move that saw the depreciation of the player and his manager, as Graham’s control started to slip and his side lost heart. Sadly, Rocastle was never quite as in love with the game as he was before. He played for 8 more seasons but from 1993, his career tailed off significantly with spells at Chelsea, Norwich and Hull.
How Wenger must have wished Rocky had stayed because he was very much the Frenchman’s type of player. Wenger said of him:
“He was a modern player, because the revolution of the game has gone on to more technique, and more skill”
“An exceptional dimension as a footballer”.
Rocastle summed up his own attitude to the game when he said:
“Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent”