On Friday, April 2, 2017, the club hosted the first screening of a documentary about great friends David Rocastle and Ian Wright. In this feature from the official Arsenal Magazine, David’s son Ryan told about the making of the documentary and the special people who came together to help create it
When I got a call from BT Sport about being involved in a project focusing on my dad’s life, I’ll confess that my initial reaction was, ‘Okay, here we go again’. Over the years we’ve been approached to do many things on my father and on the one hand it’s fantastic that so many people want to celebrate his life, but on the other we are a very private family and want to keep many of our memories personal.
However, straightaway from talking to Tom Boswell, the producer of the film, I could tell that this idea he came up with definitely had a lot of potential. He explained to me that he lived in Brockley and that the names Wright and Rocastle are still very much associated with the area and that he thought it would be interesting to show their different journeys.
‘Wrighty’ is someone who has been in my life pretty much since I was born. He and my dad were great friends so he was often around our house when I was younger. There are many old video tapes that would leave people in hysterics of dad and Wrighty just having a great time enjoying each other’s company - as any close friends who spend a lot of their days with each other would. Since my dad passed away, Wrighty’s always been there if needed and provided great support to me and my family.
In all honesty his path to success - which led to him becoming Arsenal’s all time leading goalscorer until Thierry Henry broke the record - was not something I knew too much about. I was aware that he and my father knew each other from a young age but wasn’t sure how because I knew Wrighty didn’t come through the Arsenal academy and that they didn’t actually play together for too long.
It also got me thinking about my dad’s career. I still see myself as a pretty young guy learning in life, but when he was 25 he had won the league and cup with Arsenal. He had also probably played his best years of what ended up being a short but successful playing career.
In our first phone call Tom described to me how he wanted to show the two different ways of coming out of what was a rough council estate area and going on to become two stars of one of the biggest football clubs in the world.
Dad had a happy upbringing but I was well aware that his family were not very well off and he actually lost his father at the age of seven. He took on a lot of responsibility at a young age but always knew that football could make sure he didn’t get caught up in some of the troubles that young black men from that area end up in.
Tom explained that dad’s pathway to success would be the more conventional route of making it - the one that many modern day players go through and one which sees Arsenal players of today such as Alex Iwobi reach the first team.
The other was certainly a more unique way of becoming a footballer. One I’d say happened slightly more back in the older days but nowadays is extremely rare to see. When I said to Wrighty that his career had similarities to Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy he, let's say, strongly disagreed. “Ry, Vardy was playing as a full-time professional player and actually got signed for fairly decent money when he was in the non-League. I was working as a painter and decorator and played in the evenings - they are completely different,” he said when I questioned him on it. To be fair to him, he had a point and just shows you the obstacles he had to overcome to turn pro.
Having been convinced this was a very good idea I spoke to my mum and sisters about what they thought and they too agreed that this had the potential to make a really nice story. If Wrighty was on board then so were we and like us the ex-Arsenal number eight obliged.
The topic of who’d be in it was then the next thing to settle. My mum Janet, two sisters Melissa and Monique and myself were clear from the start that we didn’t want to be a major part. Mum is naturally not someone who wants much attention and my sisters and I felt that that we could contribute to what dad was like off the pitch but simply didn’t know enough to talk about his upbringing. My uncle, and dad’s younger brother, Stephen was the perfect person to speak to about this. He looked up to dad as a role model and they were extremely close, I thought he spoke brilliantly in the film.
Then there was choosing the teammates who would speak on dad’s behalf. This was difficult as there were so many people that could have done it. Obviously guys like Michael Thomas and Tony Adams were ideal choices having played football with him from the age of 14. Then there were team mates such as Paul Davis and Perry Groves who he enjoyed great success with for many years. One person who unfortunately for contractual reasons couldn’t be in the documentary was Alan Smith but he was and continues to be a very close family friend.
Away from his teammates, the scout who brought him to Arsenal, Terry Murphy, is probably someone who many people aren’t too aware of but helped him settle when things weren’t always the easiest. Terry is one of the nicest people I’ve met and it’s always a pleasure when we are reunited.
Pat Rice was a coach he had so much respect for and David Dein was undeniably his favourite person on the board at Arsenal. It should also be said that his agents, Jerome Anderson and Stuart Peters, who weren’t in the film also had a big influence on his career. Of course there were people who both Wrighty and dad knew from the Honor Oak estate and those who were involved in bringing Wrighty to Crystal Palace.
The filming started in October 2016 and only finished just a week before the first viewing, which was fittingly on the 16th anniversary of dad’s death on March 31, 2001. Throughout we were being shown clips of what Tom was filming but to be honest we didn’t interfere much and let the professionals get on with their job.
A memorable day of filming was when BT Sport came to our house in Berkshire. My sisters and myself were both present as was my Uncle Steve and Wrighty himself. We dug up from the loft many old photos – a few I hadn’t seen for over 10 years and also looked back at some of those hilarious videos I talked about earlier. It was a great day - one in which the old man would have very much enjoyed.
A week before the documentary was set to be shown, we got to see it first hand and my initial thought was what an excellent viewing it was. Not only was it constructed really well but there were things that I’m sure most Arsenal fans wouldn’t have known and of course old footage that brought back fantastic memories such as winning the league at Anfield in 1989.
Seeing the first viewing at Emirates Stadium was extremely special and to be around close friends and family made it even better. For those who haven’t seen it, I’d best describe the film as a beautiful story that tragically lacked the fairytale ending we all wished for.
The feedback since it has been shown to the public has been overwhelming and I have seen nothing but positive comments which I’d personally like to thank everyone for. All the credit has to go to the BT Sport crew but in particular the director, Tom Boswell, who was not only the brains behind it but produced a fantastic film.
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