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.
My theory was that Rocastle 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. 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 of course was also part of the late sixties/early seventies team alongside Graham and under Howe’s coaching. Either way, someone at Arsenal in the eighties used the phrase to Rocastle and probably other players – Graham, Howe and Rice were all very keen to instil the values of the club on players, 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.
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 (@GrimandiTweets) for pointing me to the quote in David Tossell’s book that confirms the Bertie Mee link.