Thursday, June 20, 2024

David Rocastle and me

On the 15th anniversary of his untimely passing, @WestStandTone remembers David Rocastle.

Today marks 15 years since we lost David Rocastle at the ridiculously young age of 33. David was born one year and one day earlier than me, on 2nd May 1967, at the Clock End of London to my North Bank. It still seems odd for me to say it, but our lives became unexpectedly linked by that centre of the universe that has bound me to so many of the favourite people in my life – The Arsenal.

I watched Arsenal, week-in, week-out, from the early 70s; spent every other Saturday with my best mates from school during the latter part of that decade at the green gates of the players’ car park from 11:00am, waiting for the same players’ autographs time and time again. Arsenal, and other people who loved Arsenal, became my extended family from the age of four. Looking back I suspect this was all linked to the loss of my father at that age but having found the love of my life, a short distance from my broken home, there could be no other.

I had some awkward teenage years. These had coincided with the end of the Terry Neill era and the unforgettable Don Howe years. I left home at fifteen, a couple of months before my O-Levels (that’s like GCSEs now, I think), and moved out of London to live with a woman four or five years older than me. I’d given up on the school thing and had decided to move on and start a family with the woman whose name I’d had tattooed on my arm.

I’d stopped communicating with my Mum and taken up a job in a shoe shop in order to support my prospective new family. However, I still had my Arsenal season ticket and I still made a 200 mile trip every other Saturday to go to see The Arsenal. Things came and went, the woman ran off with some skinhead who would sniff glue with her and I came back home, passed my O-Levels and A-Levels with flying colours, and went off to university, just as George Graham became Arsenal manager and David Rocastle became a regular in the Arsenal team.

It wasn’t easy. I ran out of money and I had to take a year off uni, working at M&S in Brent Cross, and the high life with fancy people in a fancy town had come back to earth with a huge bump. My 19th birthday was 3rd May 1987 and I was back living in London and working like a dog, from 5am to 2pm (sometimes any hours to 10pm) every day in the M&S warehouse.

However, life was not without its bright points. On 4th March 1987 we’d beaten Totteringham HoThurs (1961, never again), 2-1 in a replay of the Littlewood’s Cup semi-final with David Rocastle defying the odds (and a half-time final ticket details announcement from the Spuds) to win us a place in the final. We won our first trophy in eight years on 5th April that year and it was a pretty good time to be an Arsenal fan.

I’d been working on my 19th birthday and my girlfriend at the time made me leave my car at work, and picked me up to take me out for the afternoon. We had to stop at Mill Hill Broadway so she could pick-up something she’d ordered from a shop. She was a massive Arsenal fan (surprise, surprise, from a family of Arsenal fans) and she recognised David Rocastle as soon as she saw him outside WH Smith’s. She asked him to sign my birthday card and I sat in her car, open mouthed, as I saw him converse with her and then look toward me as she pointed to me through the window.

David walked over, opened the driver’s door and said “Hello, Tony, Happy Birthday! It was mine yesterday”. I’m not sure what I said but the reply was “Let me buy you a beer!” and, within a couple of minutes, I was at The Railway propping up the bar with David Rocastle. It might only have been twenty minutes in total, but I had spent some of the best quality time of my life so far talking to a bloke whose star was on the rise of all rises whilst mine was in a trough. There was talk of Shite Hart Lame. There was talk about Wembley. There was hugging. You wouldn’t have known it though, it was just two blokes having a drink in a very unremarkable pub. One of those blokes was down to earth for a reason, the other was a complete superstar.

Fast-forward nine years and I’ve been through another traumatic time in life and had to change career due to circumstances beyond my control. I’ve found myself in TGI Friday’s in Covent Garden and I’m taking a client out for drinks and dinner in a situation that is completely alien to me. I’m in a huge crush at the bar and a familiar face smiles at me, “Hello, Tony” he says, “do you want a beer?”

It’s David Rocastle, on the Chelsea Christmas Party (when’s the last time a Premiership footballer went somewhere as humble as TGI Fridays?!). He remembered our previous meeting in Mill Hill, my name, our proximate birthdays and that I was a massive Arsenal fan. He tapped Dennis Wise on the shoulder and he made him buy me a beer out of Mark Hughes, Gianluca Vialli and Rudd Gullit’s whip. We stood there in that crowd and had a conversation about how fucked his knee was, Arsenal and football in general.

One of my clients was a massive Chelsea fan (long-suffering to be fair to her) and she was introduced to all of her heroes in what became a perfect evening for her. She still has a picture of her between me and (the at least a foot shorter that me) Dennis Wise. We were, apparently, her dream men at that time. She has been a confirmed lesbian for twenty years.

Times change and things move on – I went from being a season ticket holder in the school boy’s enclosure to a box holder at Highbury in the early 2000s, complete with a space beneath in the player’s carpark. Parking my car there every other week and for the evening games, I was still only ever on nodding terms with the likes of Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, and Ljungberg, and as exciting as that was, they were still aloof and separate. They kept themselves to themselves and never ventured a word beyond ‘Hello’.

I do have a point to this story. I have felt, in my own mind, that I have owed David Rocastle two beers for the last twenty years or so. Sadly, I have never had the chance to repay him. This isn’t a pessimistic reflection on the state of modern football (though not seeing the Chelsea team in the local TGI Friday’s is always a positive), this is just a personal reflection on the tragic untimely passing of a really great footballer and a fabulous human being. A story about somebody who should be remembered by all of us as an outstanding sportsman, a winner, a fighter and one of the thousands of us who love The Arsenal.

I saw David Rocastle do some tremendous things on a football pitch. He will live with me forever as a brilliant footballer, but most of all a thoroughly decent chap and a bloke who I wish I had the opportunity to take past Mac and Liz and into the pub today to buy him those beers.

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Santi Claws

Beautiful. Thank you.

O2ba

A sad day of rememberance but one to remember with a smile and pride that this great fellow blessed the hallowed turf of his and our beloved highbury.
Gone and never forgotten ROCKY ROCASTLE

Rossi88

Just watched his trubute on youtube and at 27 sadly, he was a legend before my time. But what a player he looked. RIP Rocky!

Scott P

Same here, Rossi, but reading this made me happy. It’s good to know that people like him can still exist. It goes to show the quality of the piece that even those who didn’t get to know him can still feel like they miss him. I always believe that the current crop of Arsenal players would act similarly – maybe not spending as much time, but at least they all seem like genuinely good guys. Always get the feeling that if you were put in a position to have a real conversation with them, they’d all be down-to-earth and pleasant.… Read more »

Tarquin Farquar

Good memories. I was at the semi final at shite hart lane when Charlie Nicholas got taken off with 8 mins to go. We brought on Ian Allison and me and my mate left the ground!. As we went out we equalised and couldn’t get back in. We jumped on bus and then heard the winner , rocky put us through. Very rare do I leave early these days. Learnt me lesson.

DB10**

simply awesome remembering the awesome bloke that Rocky was.

gone but never forgotten.

The coqs in the box

Touch of the rambling Pete about this post. That’s a compliment by the way.

George

In absolute bits reading this at my desk in the office. Touching story and a fitting tribute to a man taken all too soon from us. Nice one, Tone.

@AAllenSport

I watched on my lunch break as Rocky’s funeral cortege made its way past my school to the Parish Church in Windsor. Age 18, as I was then, I didn’t fully appreciate just how young he was. I’m now 33, the age that Rocky was when he passed away, and it’s really hit home. He achieved so much in such a short time and also meant so much to so many people. Long may his legacy and life be celebrated.

Cheers Tone, beautiful piece.

@AAllenSport

So these rolling one-year contracts you’ve been offering have been nothing to do with age?

Ouch.

Toast with Butter and Jam

Feels weird seeing Arseblog talk to Arseblog News in the comments

How does that even work

Jeff

Lol. Have blogs review your contract using your writing age.

Nic

I never comment on this site, but that was a really great story. I’m glad Rocky is just the man off the pitch I hoped he’d be after growing up watching him play. Thanks for sharing.

ClockEndRider

Many thanks for this Tone. I’ll always temmber Rocky as being a tremendously skilful, hard as nails player who played the game as it should be. Never shirked a tackle, never tried to hack people but wasn’t afraid of a confrontation and always backed his teammates up. His goals against United away and Boro at home are the exemplars for me of what he brought. On top of which he is reported by all who met him as a lively, down to earth bloke. I remember queueing up to have my 1989 end of season video signed by him in… Read more »

badaab

Rocky had passed before I began supporting The Arsenal with earnest, but his impact on the club isn’t lost on me. I lost my father to cancer, and people will say that it’s tough, but they’re wrong: it’s complete shit.

Le Jim

Wow. That was beautiful. I never got to see Rocky play (18 years old now), but it’s through pieces like this that you seem to get a sense of not only the player, but the man.

Down a couple of beers in the 7th minute for Rocky this Saturday, Tone!

Kyle Kunneke

O Rocky Rocky! Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocastle!

Alv Lam

Thx for sharing. It’s always great to learn more about the history of The Arsenal and the players, in such a brilliant format.

Canador

What an amazing touching story. Rocky was an exceptional human being. You hardly find such character and a person in football world any longer.

Little Mozart

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m holding back a little tear or two nafter reading this. Beautiful piece, Tone.

Daniel J. Healy

Me too pal.

OhhhhRockyRocky

Top class Tone, like the man himself.

the stoat

The day I started to hate graham was the day he sold him

H18ury

I had the pleasure of meeting him in a nightclub in Kota Kinabalu. Yes, you read that right. It was 1999 and he was playing for Sabah. I was on holiday there & to kill some time I went to the match vs Sarawak one evening – a fixed 2-2 draw. I saw him in the club later on that evening & went over for a really good chat with him. He was still a gooner thru & thru. His proudest moment was 26/5/89 he told me 🙂 smashing chap – si sad that 18 months later he’d be gone.… Read more »

Tagadab

Great write-up Tone, thanks very much for that.

Arsepedant

That’s a wonderful story and beautifully written. Rest in peace, Rocky.

Hi-brid

Rocky was on the front cover of the match day programme for the very first Arsenal game I ever went to (v Luton Town, December 20th 1986) as our newly crowned Player of the Year. Such a sad loss. Oooohhh, Rocky Rocky! Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocky Rocastle! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arsenal-Luton-Town-FC-Highbury-football-programme/dp/B00AZPCD64#immersive-view_1459463980230

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