March 31st is always a poignant time because of the passing of David (Rocky) Rocastle at the age of 33. He was a truly dedicated and committed professional and inspirational human being.
He played the game with swagger, had an assortment of silky skills and was a firm fan favourite. The mark of the man is that we still talk about him now, reminiscing about his contribution to a changing and successful Arsenal side.
David originally hailed from South London and even went for a trial for his local team Millwall, it didn’t go well but he showed immense character by preserving and he finally got his opportunity at Arsenal football club.
It was here that it was discovered that he had one major problem, he had appalling eye sight.
“They couldn’t work out why Rocastle was running around dribbling with his head down. So they took him to the halfway line and said:
‘Can you see the goal?’ and he couldn’t. His eyesight was terrible. They sorted him out with contact lenses and his career took off.”
Visually Liberated, Rocky could trust in his own ability and was able to express himself to his maximum potential.
It’s said that while Rocastle was waiting for his break at Arsenal, David Dein excitedly spoke to his wife and declared
‘I’ve seen a boy in our youths that can dribble like a Brazilian and he’s from Lewisham !’
He’s arrival in the first team marked a change in Arsenal’s philosophy, one which which saw the emergence of a crop of talented youngsters step forward and oust the underachieving established stars.
Merson, Thomas, Rocastle, Hayes, Quinn and Adams were all part of a revolution that would see Arsenal reconnect with success.
It’s a fact that is especially relevant today because of Unai Emery’s belief in Arsenal’s academy players. He has the luxury of a wealth of talent at his disposal, which will be recognised as Arsene Wenger’s lasting legacy to the club.
Like George Graham before him Emery sees the potential of riches at his disposal and it’s said that it played a major part in attracting him to the post in the first place.
Rocky was without question Graham’s brightest star, someone the Scot trusted and admired.
If he lost the ball, he’d chase that player to the ends of the earth to retrieve it.
He did all the fancy stuff, showing off his full repertoire but he wasn’t adverse to getting stuck in and was up for the fight if it was required.
Graham had once said :
“He was a genius down the wing, and had a fantastic shot.
His legs were so powerful and with such a short back-lift he caught defenders and goalkeepers out with early shots
. He could go by people, pass it and move; an old-fashioned winger who could dribble and loved one-on-one situations.”
Speak to Arsenal older Arsenal fans and the adoration is clear but the reasons for it vary from one supporter to the next. Some are due to the things I’ve already mentioned but he was also loved for his indomitable spirit and positive attitude.
He also had a great influence on Ian Wright, who was living a wild life at the time and managed to get him to focus on his career.
It’s was almost poetic that the two should feature in the same side at some point and Wright makes no secret that his success was partly due to Rocastle.
From 1984-1992, Rocastle played 228 games for the gunners and scored 23 goals but he was worth more than the figures suggest, he embodied the spirit of Arsenal.
Here’s the thing, when we look at players from the past, it’s difficult to imagine them in the modern game or current side because of the demands, yet Rocastle’s skill and desire could have seen him emerge in any Arsenal side under Wenger or Emery.
He would certainly fit what Emery is looking for in the middle right now, without question.
The pace of the game may have accelerated but Rocastle would have adapted his game accordingly because that’s who he was.
He is greatly missed and it would have been nice to see him at the academy in a coaching role, encouraging the talent of the future and giving them the benefit of his experience.
He went too soon but true Arsenal fans will always remember him.