Cole hails hero as Arsenal adopt Rocastle charity

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The Independent Online

Ashley Cole yesterday spoke of the influence David Rocastle had on his career - and life - as Arsenal adopted a charity in their former midfielder's name for the forthcoming season.

The David Rocastle Trust was founded in memory of the player who died in 2001 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer which attacks the body's immune system, at the age of 33.

"As a 10-year-old boy I was injured while playing for the kids team at Arsenal and had to come and see Gary Lewin [the physiotherapist] and luckily enough he [Rocastle] was sitting on the treatment table," Cole said. "He didn't have to speak to me but he took time out and asked my name and how I was. After that I just started following him and tried to be like him."

Rocastle was one of the most popular Arsenal players. He made his first-team debut against Newcastle United - Arsenal's opponents on Sunday as they start their Premiership campaign - and within two seasons was one of the most exciting attacking players in the country.

"I didn't come to Highbury too many times because I couldn't get tickets but when I did I watched him," Cole, now 24, said. "Someone said he was like a Brazilian and he was, he was such a great player with his skills. He was fast and loved by players and fans."

Rocastle is best remembered for his role in the 1989 Championship-winning team, appearing in all 38 league games, including the incredible 2-0 victory at Anfield which secured the title.

David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman, revealed that even in the weeks before his death, Rocastle was able to talk about that match with pride. Rocastle, known as "Rocky" by friends and fans, won a second championship medal in 1991 and also gained 14 England caps.

After his death in March 2001, Arsenal played a half-time homage to him on the big screens at Highbury. "I was playing," said Cole. "I didn't know him to socialise with but people like [Lee] Dixon, [Martin] Keown, Dave Seaman were really upset and said he was such a nice guy. All those players loved him.

"When we play, the fans sing his name and hopefully now they will be behind this," Cole said.

The Trust succeeds ChildLine, which has been Arsenal's nominated charity for the past two years.

Money raised will go towards supporting Rocastle's widow and three children, as well as supporting community projects in his name and assisting other registered charities. There will be a match at Highbury in honour of Rocastle and matchday programme noticeboard donations will be channelled to the trust. "It's a great honour for us to be associated with such a great man. He was a hero," Dein said at yesterday's launch.

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