All Guns Blazing: David Rocastle will always live in Arsenal hearts

Arsenal fans pay tribute to former Arsenal footballer David Rocastle who died of non-Hodgkin's lymph

Arsenal fans pay tribute to former Arsenal footballer David Rocastle who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 33 in 2001 - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Sports journalist and Arsenal fan Layth Yousif looks back on the legacy of a Arsenal legend

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

Martin Luther King.

On this weekend thirteen years ago, Arsenal Football Club lost a true legend.

On 31st March 2001, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, 33, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – an aggressive cancer which mercilessly attacks the immune system.

How many of us cried that day at his untimely passing, and cry still at the cruelty of his being taken from us at such a tragically early age? How many of us still miss him?

We miss him for his significant contribution to the history of the club we all love. We miss him for his skill, his power, his desire, his technique, his attacking play that sparkled under George Graham’s early teams. And we miss him for the sheer unadulterated pleasure he got from playing for our club.

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As Rocky once said in a hauntingly evocative exhortation, one which should act as a starting point for every Arsenal player: ‘Remember who you are, what you are, and what you represent. ”

In our minds eye, those of a certain vintage can still recall his artful goal which eclipsed five Middlesbrough players in November ‘88, and the way he destroyed Chelsea in February ‘88 and September ’90. Or his wonder-strike at Anfield in October ’88?

Who can forget his contribution to the emotional night we beat Everton in the League Cup semi-final in February 1988 at Highbury? Where, to make amends for his audacity in dummying Neville Southall in the first half but narrowly failing to score, he crunched into Pat van den Hauwe before laying the ball off to his friend and team-mate Michael Thomas to net.

What was instructive was Rocky sprinting 50 yards to join in the celebrations. Not in a showy way which was never his style, but in a joyous, unselfish manner, pleased for his pals in red and white, and us on the terraces.

That’s why we loved him and love him still. He was one of us.

He was also modest, kind and loyal. He cried the day Graham sold him, saying later - in a line which makes my throat catch even now: ‘Playing for The Arsenal was all I ever wanted to do.”

For the love, devotion, respect and quality you gave Arsenal Football Club – as a player, and as a man - Rocky, we salute your memory.

David Rocastle 1967 – 2001. RIP.

Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29