LIFE, as we’re often told as youngsters, just isn’t fair. Never is this more evident than in the case of former Arsenal and England midfielder David Rocastle, who died today in 2001. Affectionately known as Rocky to the Clock End faithful, his wizardry and commitment on the pitch was matched only by his qualities of loyalty and modesty off it.
ROCASTLE was spotted at an early age whilst at Roger Manwood Secondary in Brockley Rise, where inter-school matches would feature a host of top scouts clambering for a view of the talented youngster. It was, of course, Arsenal who secured his signature, and Rocky would first pull on the Gunners shirt as a 16-year old in the Haarlem under-20s tournament, where he dazzled against opponents three years older than him.
He broke into the Arsenal first team in September 1985 under manager Don Howe, who tried to play down the inevitable hype that followed, claiming that: “David passed when he should have shot and shot when he should have passed, but he’s going to be a great player.”
And quite right Mr. Howe was. Over the next eight years Rocastle would become an Arsenal legend, making 277 appearances and scoring 34 goals. His weaving runs, ball-control and inspiration played a key part in the Gunners side that picked up a League Cup in 1987 and two League titles in 1989 and 1991. Author, Arsenal fan and list enthusiast Nick Hornby ranked Rocky’s winner against Spurs in the ’87 League Cup semi as one of his all-time top 5 football moments, which is no mean feat.
By his 23rd birthday he looked to have the world at his feet, as he had already represented England 14 times and with the 1990 World Cup on the horizon life was good for Lewisham-born midfielder.
However, lady luck had other ideas. A mixture of injury and lack of form struck and as Arsenal struggled to defend their 1989 title Rocastle missed out on the England squad for Italia ’90. A mini-revival did follow, as Rocky returned from injury in the run-in to Arsenal’s 1991 title win, but he was unable to match the incredibly high standard that he had set for himself in the late 1980′s.
In 1992 Rocastle moved the Leeds United, fresh from their league title win, but injuries deprived the Elland Road faithful of any sustained action from the midfielder. Subsequent spells at Manchester City and Chelsea followed, before he was shipped put on loan to Norwich and finally Hull City, where his career would come to an ignominious close in 1998.
In February 2001 Rocky announced that he was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and after an unsuccessful course of chemotherapy he died today in 2001, at the tragically young age of 33. See a tribute to the great man below, as we raise a glass to one of England’s lost talents.