Cult Heroes and Club Icons: The Legend of David Rocastle

"Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent."

Few Arsenal players of the modern era have had the connection with supporters that David "Rocky" Rocastle had.

Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of Rocastle's death from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a life cut short at 33-years-old by a disease that couldn't be beaten, even by a man of seemingly endless courage.

A Lewisham lad who joined Arsenal's academy in 1982, Rocastle was an instant fan favourite, balancing a blend of trickery and pace on the wing with a spirit that was second to none.

A decade and a half after his passing, Rocastle's legacy is one of outright praise. A player loved by both fans and players alike, "Rocky" was by all accounts the nicest man in English football, and the greatest tribute paid are the words of his peers.

Pat Rice

Fellow Arsenal icon Rice, who was an assistant to Arsene Wenger until 2012, was Rocastle's youth team manager during his academy days.

Like Rocastle, Rice was a Gunner through and through, and like Rocastle, he battled cancer.

Rice speaks fondly of Rocastle's heart and ambition, recalling a notable moment in the early 80s when he was berating the youth squad for its poor efforts.

"We were having a heated discussion on my part and I remember just saying to all 18 of them there, 'How many of you are going to make it into the first team?'" Rice told Arsenal's website.

"I'll never forget the response because only one player held their hand up. It was David Rocastle - and boy did he make it into the first team. I'll never forget that boy.

"He was fantastic. He loved the Arsenal with a passion and the supporters loved him. They still do to this day and that makes me so happy."

Martin Keown

A fellow academy product and terrace favourite, Keown remembers the moment Rocastle's career took the next step.

"We had such a good youth team with the likes of Michael Thomas, Niall Quinn and David Rocastle, Paul Merson, Gus Caesar, and Martin Hayes," Keown said in 2010.

"They couldn't work out why Rocastle was running around dribbling with his head down. So they took him to the halfway line and said: 'Can you see the goal?' and he couldn't.

"His eyesight was terrible. They sorted him out with contact lenses and his career took off."

Keown's lighthearted memory of Rocastle is trumped only by his admission of guilt over the death of his beloved teammate.

"I remember feeling guilty myself, being able to play. Here I was, wanting to carry on playing football, and he couldn't even carry on his life.

"We got to the FA Cup final that year, and his son came on the pitch with us, and we were desperate to win it for his son. We lost against Liverpool, but we made up for it the following year when we won the double."

John Cross

Mirror columnist and unabashed Arsenal supporter Cross is one of many in the media to speak highly of Rocastle.

"Rocastle was just 33 when he died 15 years ago today and, at almost every Arsenal game, the fans still sing his name. He will never be forgotten," Cross offered in a tribute.

"To the ones too young to remember him, they have embraced him just as much as the older fans who loved him as a player and as a man."

Cross continued, saying, "You will do well in football to find a player so universally popular, such a nice bloke, down to earth and he enjoyed so much success with Arsenal."

Part of the allure of Rocastle's rise to Arsenal's first team was that he was a London boy whose climb was one of effort in the face of the meteoric ascensions of many of his colleagues.

"That's what made Rocky a bit special - he epitomised a young player coming through the ranks, working his way up, living the dream and the fans could relate to him."

Arsene Wenger

Current Arsenal boss Wenger never managed Rocastle, as he joined the north London outfit in 1996 - four years after the dynamic winger moved to Leeds United.

Regardless, few people are as in tune to all things Arsenal than Wenger, who remembers Rocastle's tenure with the club fondly.

"He was a modern player, because the revolution of the game has gone to more technique, and more skill," Wenger said in 2011 on the 10-year anniversary of Rocastle's death.

"Rocastle not only had an exceptional dimension as a footballer, but as well a human dimension. Everybody liked him."

Ryan Rocastle

Rocky's son, Ryan, who was nine at the time of his father's death, is an Arsenal season ticket holder who's constantly bombarded by words of praise from fellow Gooners.

"Most often when Arsenal fans talk to me about my dad, they want to tell me that he was a legend," Ryan said.

"A few people have told me that they have named their sons 'Rocky' after Dad. Or they want to talk about the game on the day of his death which was against Tottenham. The club were worried the minute's silence would be a nightmare but the Spurs fans observed it immaculately. That showed how respected he was."

That's how widely regarded Rocastle was, even with the hard-to-erase memories of his 1987 Littlewoods Cup semi-final injury-time winner over Spurs.

Not yet 10 when "Rocky" died, Ryan admits that at the time he hadn't fully grasped the magnitude of his father's accomplishments. By the time he was 15, Ryan was attending matches as a fan, recalling a particular event during which his father's legacy dawned on him.

In attendance on April 1, 2006, for "David Rocastle Day," Ryan conceded that he finally came to realise just how fondly his dad was perceived.

"They had a minute's applause and I was watching players I really looked up to, like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, and I thought, 'They are actually clapping my dad.' We won 5-0 that day against Villa … I did find that fitting."

A Lasting Legacy

Fans chant his name and peers sing his praise, remembering a player who was as Arsenal as any and whose life full of promise was cut short.

Of all the words of appreciation for Rocastle's life, the statement that he lived by is as indicative of his character as any.

"Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent."

Cult Heroes and Club Icons: The Legend of David Rocastle
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