The season had started reasonably well. We lost at Anfield on the first day but, seeing as we hadn’t won there since ’73, that was no shock. United beat us 2-1 in a scrappy game at Highbury but then we went on good run of 4 wins on the bounce before gettig beat at Stamford Bridge. That defeat saw yet another injury for the unfortunate Stewart Robson, fortunately for us fans though, it made the following weeks game at home Newcastle a chance for us to witness the day a star was born.
I feel privileged to have been one of the 24,104 paying punters at Highbury that sunny September afternoon.
Because we saw David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle make his debut.
It wasn’t the greatest of games. It was a fairly dull 0-0 draw in truth.
As was often the case at the time, Tony Woodcock and Graham Rix looked like they’d rather be somewhere else (probably the Orange Tree in Totteridge!) but we were gripped by the performance of the young kid in the number 7 shirt.
About 15 minutes in David Rocastle picked up the ball on the edge of our box and set off towards the Clockend. A mazy dribble took him past 4 or 5 Geordies, before a slide rule pass on the edge of their penalty area allowed Charlie Nicholas to stick the ball high and wide.
The kids enthusiasm was fantastic to see. Paul Davis in particular seemed to thrive on having another youngster trying his heart out alongside him, rather than an old hand going through the motions.
Attacking the North Bank in the second half, a great sweeping move saw Rocky arrive late and unmarked in the box, only to hit the post with his diving header.
Perhaps a goal would’ve been too perfect a debut?
Bizarrely Rocastle was on the bench the following week, as Don Howe tried a new formation with Charlie Nicholas wide on the right and Chalky Whyte being used as a striker. Being fair, we beat Villa 3-2 and Whyte got the winner. Rocky found himself on the bench for the next month or so, until a 6-1 defeat at Everton gave Howe the perfect opportunity to blood some more youngsters.
Martin Keown, Gus Caeser, Martin Hayes and Niall Quinn all joined Rocky in the team over the next few games and they all made a difference.
Niall Quinn scored against Liverpool on his debut as we beat them 2-0 at Highbury. Gus Caeser replaced Viv Anderson for our game at Old Trafford and turned in a MOTM performance (marking Jesper Olsen out of the game) in a 1-0 win.
Martin Hayes ran Oxford ragged on his first outing and Martin Keown looked likely to be O’Leary’s long term partner after an assured performance at WBA.
Sadly, Don Howe didn’t stay long enough to see all these youngsters he introduced blossom.
Terry Venables told him that David Dein had flown to Barcelona and approached him about taking over as Arsenal manager the following season.
Don Howe, outraged at the lack of respect shown to such a loyal servant of the club, walked out and Venables, in a show of support for his friend, turned the job offer down.
We meandered to a 7th place finish, with a lot of us bemoaning the fact that, just as we looked like we’d finally turned a corner, we’d actually just arrived at another cul-de-sac.
But good times were on the way.
And an ex-player, fresh from managing third division Millwall to promotion, was going to deliver them.
It was time for the glorious return of George ‘Stroller’ Graham.