David Rocastle died on March 31, 2001, aged just 33. Later that day, fans of Arsenal and Tottenham stood united in silence to remember the former Gunner before a north London derby.
It said much about the respect Rocastle commanded at Highbury and beyond. ‘Rocky’ was a true gentleman of the game.
The Lewisham lad came through the ranks at the club in the mid-1980s bringing flair and flashes of brilliance in front of Arsenal’s dogged defence. He was a player at which the infamous ‘Boring, Boring Arsenal’ chant could not be levied.
Rocastle forced himself into the senior reckoning just as Don Howe’s Highbury reign was coming to an end. It was in these early showings that fans caught a glimpse of the abundant talent David had in his locker.
He was awarded the Supporters' Player of the Year award in 1986 and picked up his first major honour the following campaign after the Littlewoods Cup triumph over Liverpool. Rocastle’s growth continued apace and over the next two seasons he didn’t miss a League game, culminating in the title triumph of 1989. He ended the campaign as Barclays Young Eagle of the Year.
The Londoner had electrifying pace, poise and plenty of venom, meaning he could operate just as comfortably in a central or a more orthodox wide-right position. One thing was for sure, wherever he played, Rocastle could lift a crowd.
England recognition was just a matter of time. Indeed, before his 23rd birthday, Rocastle’s cap count had reached double figures.
A new decade brought a new, and a wholly unexpected, inconsistency. Rocastle missed out on the 1990 World Cup squad but fought back resolutely and eventually earned an England recall in 1991. His club form, too, resurfaced and he found his knack of weighting passes to perfection again. Rocastle’s blip was behind him.
Having played a major part in Arsenal’s title triumph of 1991, Rocastle flourished in the centre of midfield as George Graham’s side played some of the most attractive football seen at Highbury. His flair, allied to that of Paul Merson and Anders Limpar, conjured up chance after chance for Ian Wright, Kevin Campbell and Alan Smith. The title eluded Arsenal but the entertainment was non-stop.
Rocastle looked set to assume his new role for years to come but, in the summer of 1992, he was surprisingly sold to Leeds United. Rocastle’s career never scaled the same heights again as injuries took their toll.
When ‘Rocky’ lost his battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, tributes poured in from across the football world. "He was a really top talent who had just about everything - he had all-round ability,” said Double-winning Frank McLintock. Rocastle was a top-class player - and a top-class person.
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