Throwback Thursdays: David "Rocky" Rocastle

In the early hours of March 31, 2001 former Arsenal hero and England international David "Rocky" Rocastle lost his brave battle with cancer, succumbing to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at 33 years of age.

Although there have been more talented and decorated players for Arsenal, there have been few who were as beloved as Rocky.

Born in Lewisham, London to Caribbean parents, Rocastle started his youth career with Arsenal as a 15 year old in 1982. A smooth dribbling but hard working midfielder with an eye for goal, by 1984 he had debuted for the first team squad before eventually becoming a regular during the 1985-1986 season.

In 1987 he forever endeared himself to the Arsenal faithful by scoring a late winner against rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the League Cup semi-final, a competition the Gunners would ultimately win. Believe it or not, Arsenal didn't have the best of records at the Lane during that period, so this was a massive result for the club.

In September of 1988, Rocky made his debut for England which little did he know at the time would kick off a memorable season.

Playing in every match for the Gunners during a memorable 1988-1989 campaign, he would be at the heart of a side involved in one of the greatest title races ever.

Fighting all season long for the league championship with the dominant team of the era, Liverpool, Rocastle and his Arsenal teammates went into a season ending crunch match at Anfield that the Gunners had to win to tie the Merseyside outfit on points at the top of the table.

But a win alone wouldn't be enough, as they had to do it by two clear goals to snatch the title by virtue of more goals scored, as they would also be tied on goals difference if Arsenal won by a two goal margin.

After a scoreless first half, Arsenal took the lead through Alan Smith seven minutes after the break to edge the Gunners close to the title. Liverpool dug in though, and it looked like Arsenal were going to fall agonizingly short before Michael Thomas scored a last gasp goal in injury time to send the title to Highbury for the first time in 18 years.

Rocky and his teammates that he emerged from the youth side with, like Paul Merson and Tony Adams, would lead the Gunners to another title in 1990-1991.

Departing for Leeds in 1992, he spent a lone season at Elland Road before stints with Manchester City and Chelsea. Injury hampered much of his later career, so these clubs never quite saw the best of him.

In total, Rocastle played 14 times for England over a career where he was as popular with fans for his warm personality off the pitch as he was for his skillful play on it.

Retiring at age 31 through injury, within two years he had lost a short but terrible battle with cancer leaving a wife, two young daughters and a son behind.

His passing came just before a North London derby, and despite fears that a moment of silence for Rocky would be interrupted, Spurs fans remained dignified as their tearful rivals paid tribute to one of their departed heroes.



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