The 31st of March is the anniversary of the death of David Rocastle in 2001, one of Arsenal’s most popular and talented players of the modern era. Rocastle’s Arsenal career was ended way too early for most, but that is insignificant compared to the fact that he lost his life through cancer at the tragically young age of 33. I was lucky enough to see Rocastle play in the flesh, and he was as brave and skilful as anyone he ever shared a pitch with. His quiet nature off the pitch, coupled with a ready smile, belied the fact that he had incredible strength to go with his footwork, balance and speed. He’d be at home with all the greatest Arsenal players, and would in my opinion have fitted right into the best Wenger-era teams had he been born a few years later. If you never saw him in the flesh, I urge you to scour the internet for footage; well worth seeing him in action.
The quote “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent” is widely attributed to Rocastle – his wikipedia page describes it as “his famous quote”, and says it was shown on the big screens at Arsenal during the match on 30 March 2013 that commemorated the 12th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t there that day but I’ll take their word for that.
Ian Wright has said in a documentary that Rocastle used these words to him when he joined Arsenal, and that seems to be the reason the quote is attributed to Rocastle and regularly trotted out in his memory. But Rocastle certainly didn’t invent the saying, he just used it to inspire his mate and emphasise the fact Wrighty had moved to a much bigger club than Crystal Palace.
Rocastle got the saying from one or both of his two Arsenal managers, George Graham or Don Howe. Both of course had spent many years at Arsenal (on and off) as players or coaching and managing, and both were steeped in the traditions of Arsenal. Tony Dennis on twitter (@TonyDennis10) has told me he recalls an interview Rocky gave around 1988 or ’89 where the player said it was actually Pat Rice who used the saying to the youth team Rocastle had been part of. Rice was also part of the late sixties/early seventies team alongside Graham and under Howe’s coaching. So one or more of the coaching staff at Arsenal in the eighties used the phrase to Rocastle and probably to other players – Graham, Howe and Rice were all very keen to instil the values of the club on their squads, and show them how Arsenal was bigger and better than any other club, never mind what the league table might be saying at any particular moment. All three men worked with manager Bertie Mee before and during the 1971 Double season, and – from an Arsenal point of view – Mee is the original source of the quote.
Mee’s Double-season right-hand man Don Howe is quoted in David Tossell’s book Seventy-One Guns talking about the manager: “‘No vendettas’ was one of his great sayings. He would tell them [the players] to forget it and get on with the game. If we lost he expected us to lose with dignity, and to behave the right way if we were invited anywhere. He used to say, ‘Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.'” Clearly George Graham and Pat Rice would also have heard this repeated. (Thanks to Giles (@_GrimandiTweets) for pointing me to the quote in David Tossell’s book that confirms the Bertie Mee link.)
But where did Bertie Mee get it from? Seventy-One Guns, the story of Arsenal’s first Double season, was published in 2002, a year after Mee’s death. Don Howe has since also passed away, so we can’t ask either of them for more detail. However, in 1961 jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong recorded a song called Remember Who You Are, in which the first line is “Remember who you are and what you represent”. The line is then repeated throughout the song. Now I accept this is pure speculation, but it would not surprise me one bit if Bertie Mee had been a fan of Louis Armstrong. Mee was born in 1918, lived through the golden age of jazz and was 41 years old when he joined Arsenal as physiotherapist in 1960, and 47 on becoming manager in 1966. He was known for his traditional attitudes and one look at his mode of dress and manner tells you he would certainly not have been listening to the Beatles and the Stones. So my theory is Mee knew this song and adapted the phrase to keep his players in line.
However it appears that “Remember who you are and what you represent” was in use even before Louis Armstrong made it famous. Its usage is attributed to Hetty Belle Ege, an American maths professor born in 1861, who worked at Mills College, California, from 1895 to 1930. All Mills alumni seem to know the expression and treat it as an unofficial college motto. I’ve seen nothing to confirm that’s definitely as far as the trail goes, but it’s certainly the earliest usage of anything similar I know of. Thanks to Natalee Kehaulani (see comments) for enlightening me.
Agree / disagree? Other facts and theories are always welcome.
13 thoughts on “Who Said: “Remember Who You Are, What You Are and Who You Represent”?”
I think it goes back way before Bertie Mee, Phil.
Either pre war or just after.
It might do, but I’ll need some kind of evidence or mention from those days.
I believe that the Arsenal players used to receive a sort of handbook which told them what was expected of them, behaviour , dress code etc. If I’m correct, then this phrase was in the handbook.
I can’t verify this but it is in my memory, although time can play tricks of course.
Many associate it with Rocky, but he used to enjoy quoting it in jest.
Is this the handbook Martin?
That contains the statement: “Players are reminded that they are expected to conduct themselves at all times in a manner that maintains the good name of the club”. It’s the same message, but I reckon Bertie distilled it to something less formal and more pithy for his era.
Have you got any more of those books, Andy?
Unfortunately I don’t have any of them. It’s part of Just Another Gooner’s wonderful collection.
I imagine so Phil, but no idea when the club stared issuing them to the. players.
This phrase was famously repeated by Hettie Bell Ege, Dean at Mills College, as far back as the late 1800s. Not sure if she’s the originator, but it’s the earliest I’ve heard of its use.
Thanks for the info. Can you point me to anything on the internet that confirms her use of the phrase?
Sure. It’s actually the unofficial motto for Mills College. Here’s a link to an alumni fundraising page that gives background on a few things including citing the history of the phrase:
https://www.alumnae.mills.edu/s/1244/images/FileLibrary/de4f73f146d9401cb23f577c6c6bf33d.pdf (Your blog is only letting it preview one page, but the citation is actually on page 3. Of you’re unable to see it you can google “Hettie Ege Remember who you are and what you represent.”
It’s also here, about a quarter way from the bottom:
“(I’m now on the verge of wanting to scream or bang my head on the wall, but I can’t because I am the only deaf person at this conference, and Hettie Belle Ege’s words, “Remember who you are and what you represent” are running through my head like a mantra.)“
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