30 March 2015

Remembering Rocky: David Rocastle, 1967-2001

There are few events or players that will get supporters of Arsenal and Tottenham to agree, least of all when the player in question helped to deliver glory to Arsenal at Tottenham's expense, but on 31 March 2001, the day of his death, 38,000 fans had gathered for what would be a fierce North London Derby. A minute of silence would surely prompt a small number of Spurs fans to shout something, would it not? However, despite Tottenham manager David Pleat's recommendation to the referee, there would be no need to cut the observance short, as Gooner and Spur alike offered their silent respect, broken only by muffled sobs here and there. It's not often that a player can unite such otherwise bitterly-opposed factions, but such was Rocastle's quality on and off the pitch that he did just that.


It's not for nothing that we start there. After all, one of the highlights of Rocky's career came from scoring a late winner against Tottenham in the 1987 Littlewoods Cup semi-final—a result that required extra-time in the second leg and a replay, the venue of which was decided by a coin-toss that at first ended with the coin landing upright in the mud. A replay of that coin-toss led to Spurs winning and choosing to play the actual replay at White Hart Lane. From there, the drama unfolded...

Clive Allen netted early for Tottenham, and it looked like Spurs would go through to the final. Then, with less than ten minutes to play, Arsenal found an equaliser. With time running out, a shot from Ian Allinson (who had scored that equaliser) rebounded to Rocastle, who stroked home the winner. It was the first time in over 300 minutes of play that Arsenal enjoyed a lead against Tottenham. Arsenal would go on to win the Cup, but that's just the icing on the cake.

Such was the joy that Rocastle was capable of sparking. Playing during a time when "boring, boring Arsenal" was more an apt description than an envious taunt, Rocastle brought verve, vivacity, and venom to a side sorely lacking in any of those qualities. What might matter more than his exploits on the pitch, though, was how he conducted himself in person. By all accounts, including those who played against him, Rocastle was a prince of a man, a lovely one who could inspire a smile through a moment of brilliance or through a refusal to be scythed by a defender. When he scored, the exuberance he inspired seemed due in part to the fact that it was he ho scored it. It's rare that you'll find a player as universally embraced and enjoyed as Rocastle was. He was, heart and soul, a Gunner.

Ultimately, it took non-Hodgkins lymphoma to stop him. Even that aggressive form of cancer needed more than a month to conquer him, such was his spirit and will. Despite aggressive chemotherapy and an indomitable spirit, he finally succumbed on 31 March 2001, just 33 years old.

Today, Tuesday, 31 March, marks the 14th anniversary of his passing. Long may he live in Gooners' hearts and minds. Remember him well!