In this series of posts, University of Roehampton chaplaincy staff are reflecting, in honour of Black History Month, on people who have inspired them. Here Community Chaplaincy Worker Peter Greenfield writes about David Rocastle.
I grew up supporting Arsenal. My brother supported them and most of my Mum’s side of the family supported them. Alas, my Mum’s sister’s family supported Tottenham Hotspur. When I first supported Arsenal, we had an excellent and experienced backline: the legendary back four of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon still all played for the club in the 1998-99 season. By chance we had the video of Arsenal’s 1989-90 season, nine years before, in the house. I believe my brother picked it up at a school fayre. And it was those same four defenders who played for the club that season. It was interesting to see the then Leeds manager, David O’Leary play as a footballer. Paul Merson, who is now a pundit, was another famous Arsenal footballer still playing nine seasons later. The first match Arsenal played in the 1989-90 season was at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Arsenal had just won the title the season before, but ended up losing this game 4-1. They were level 1-1 at half-time though and the player who scored the Arsenal goal was a player I had not heard of before: David Rocastle.
‘Rocky’ (as he was known) Rocastle would only score one more league goal that season against Southampton, but he remained an Arsenal player for the next two seasons and I saw more of him in another Arsenal video (called ‘The Wonder Years’ 1989-1999), which I received in the year 2000. Rocastle sadly died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 33. Among my peers, I am pretty sure that no one knew him at the time. He hadn’t played top-level football since the mid-90s, at a time when people were of an age too young to watch or understand football. I was one of the few people my age who could say, “I know that guy.”
Rocastle inspires me because he battled through adversity to make it as a footballer. He lived on a rough council estate and his father died when he was seven, but he broke into the Arsenal side in the 1985-86 season at the age of just 18. He would go on to win the League Cup the following season and then two titles, including 1988-89 where his team-mate (left in the photo) Michael Thomas scored against Liverpool in the last minute of the last game of the season to steal the title from them.
There are many problems with football at the moment, particularly in terms of racism. But one of the positive things that has emerged with Arsenal this century is memory and, as a Christian, I think it particularly important that we remember the dead. David Rocastle may have only lived for 33 years. He may have peaked rather early in his playing career. However, in Arsenal’s final season at their old football ground Highbury, there was ‘David Rocastle Day’ with a minute of applause from the fans before the start of Arsenal’s game against Aston Villa. In August 2006 they opened the David Rocastle indoor centre at the club’s academy. His image is on Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. In more recent years, fans have expressed their appreciation at matches close to the anniversary of his death. Doubtless Arsenal fans would have marked the 20th anniversary of his death but for last season’s empty football stadiums.
A few years ago, a documentary about Rocastle and Ian Wright was made (Rocky and Wrighty: From Brockley to the Big Time) for BT Sport. Both were brought up on South London’s Honor Oak Estate and both would end up playing for Arsenal, although they were only simultaneously there for one season (1991-1992). If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to watch it on the Internet (it is free).
Peter Greenfield is a Chaplaincy Community Worker at the University of Roehampton.