The 31st of March is the sixteenth anniversary of the death of David Rocastle, one of Arsenal’s most popular and talented players of the modern era. Arsenal fans will commemorate him before Sunday’s match, as they have done in recent times. 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.
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 that he’d moved to a much bigger club than Crystal Palace.
Rocastle no doubt got the saying from one 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. It’s a sound assumption that one of the two used the phrase to Rocastle and probably other players – for one thing it’s exactly the sort of thing both would say, being very keen to instil the values of the club on players, and show them how Arsenal was bigger and better than anyone else as a club, never mind what the league table might be saying at any particular moment. Perhaps Howe said it to Rocastle on young David’s arrival at the club in the early eighties, or perhaps Graham said it on his own return in 1986. Both Graham and Howe 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 the book Seventy-One Guns by David Tossell 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 would also have heard this repeated.
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.
Agree / disagree? Other facts and theories are welcome.
Thanks to Giles (@invertdwhinger) for pointing me to the quote in David Tossell’s book that confirms the Bertie Mee link.