A flawless performer in Sheffield Wednesday’s 2005 League One play-off final success, midfielder Craig Rocastle has ventured as far as Kansas City and Greece in the years since and he can testify that his American colleagues’ musical appreciation was some way off the standard of those back home!
Following in the footsteps of his cousin, the forever-remembered former Arsenal and England international midfielder David, Craig spent time with Chelsea and a number of other domestic clubs before heading to Greek side Thrasyvoulos FC and Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City (formerly known as Kansas City Wizards).
Back now in his second spell with second-tier Thrasyvoulos in Fyli, Attica, he looks back at his time in America with immense affection but delivers a slightly less favourable assessment of the music tastes encountered.
“To be honest my time in England was not too bad (for teammates’ music) but some of my American teammates had awful taste! No names mentioned…Luke Sassano!”
That said, Craig’s well-populated list of favourite acts is dominated by US artists, with only English-born singer Marsha Ambrosius of the r&b duo Floetry as an exception.
“Favourite artists are Nas, Monica, Marsha Ambrosius, Michael Jackson, Joe, Donell Jones, Omarion, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, Jodeci, Angie Stone, Musiq Soulchild, Rick Ross, 50 Cent, New Edition and 80s music in general. Favourite albums contain Nas ‘God’s Son’ and Trey Songz ‘Trey Day’.
“I have an open mind but I can say I don’t like that deep heavy metal/rock stuff where the guys are screaming, sorry. The first album I bought was Dr. Dre ‘The Chronic’ – it did not go down well with my Dad as the language was foul!”
Regarding players who make music in their spare time, Craig, 30, identifies an ex-Arsenal youngster who was mentioned in the first of my two-part interview in September with Leicester City’s Neil Danns.
“Ryan Smith, we lived together in Kansas City and he was going hard in his room daily making songs and beats.”
Before his endeavours over the other side of the pond, South Londoner ‘Rocky’ began as a Queens Park Rangers youth before joining Gravesend and Northfleet (now Ebbsfleet United) and then Kingstonian in the Isthmian Premier Division.
Shortly after Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea in the summer of 2003, manager Claudio Ranieri used the new-found riches to bring in the likes of Damien Duff (£17million), Hernán Crespo (£16.8million) and Claude Makélélé (£16million), to name but three of the many high-profile recruits that season.
Entering Stamford Bridge at that time to considerably less fanfare was Craig, and though his playing time during almost two years with the West Londoners was to come out on loan with Barnsley, Lincoln City and Hibernian the memories of working in close proximity with World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Emmanuel Petit and numerous established stars was a worthwhile exercise.
“It was an amazing experience for me being treated with so much respect from world-class players. The move came about when I played a trial game for Coventry versus Chelsea, I received a phone call a few days later from Chelsea asking me to come in, then after four months I broke into the first-team squad.”
Having played against Sheffield Wednesday as a late substitute the previous season for Barnsley he signed for The Owls in February 2005 on a free transfer, joining Paul Sturrock’s side for the final run-in of the ultimately successful League One promotion push.
“Sheffield Wednesday was always a club who I had in mind to join, the fan base and history speaks for itself. When I was approached by the club I turned down Championship offers, my mind was made up.”
With teenage loanee Joey O’Brien returning to parent club Bolton Wanderers a few weeks later, the injury to Lewis McMahon and the forced retirement of skipper Chris Marsden, there was an opening for Craig in the middle of the park alongside Glenn Whelan, with the only other available central midfield option being recent signing from Plymouth Argyle Steve Adams.
An exciting 3-2 home victory over Blackpool in March of that year brought Craig’s first (and only) goal for the club as he strode through the Seasiders’ team to send a low effort into the far corner at the Leppings Lane end.
Wednesday finished 5th and entered the play-offs, defeating Martin Allen’s Brentford before disposing of Hartlepool United in the final by 4 goals to 2 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
“As a team I would honestly say we were very confident, we brushed aside Brentford who we considered a huge threat. The mood was the same as every game, we had a winning mentality.”
Craig had an outstanding game in the final and set up the first goal for Jon Paul McGovern, but the Sky Sports commentary of the game claimed that Sturrock had a bit of a go at him for losing focus for a brief moment late in extra-time, though he explains how it really played out.
“He wasn’t telling me to keep focused he was actually telling me to stop moaning! Paddy Collins should have played me in and I was gutted!”
The following season in the Championship Craig began as one of the team’s most solid performers, impressing hugely in a home win over Coventry City in October that saw him perform a perfectly-executed tackle late on which brought the supporters to their feet.
In a November match at Hillsborough against Derby County he was deployed by Sturrock to specifically counter the creative threat of Spaniard Iñigo Idiákez, at the time one of the division’s most potent performers.
Despite successfully shutting Idiákez down Craig was ironically cheered by some in the home crowd when he was substituted, and he would play just two more games for Wednesday, the last of which was a Steel City derby at Bramall Lane.
He does not however see the game with Derby as the turning point in his S6 career and he details the circumstances surrounding the run-up to his 2006 departure from the club.
“No not at all, Sturrock did a press release explaining what he had asked me to do and we played Cardiff at home during the following week and I was a sub. I warmed up at half-time and all the fans stood up and clapped me.
“They just want to see the team win and they did not understand why I was out of the game (against Derby) so much as I never did that sort of role before. I respect Sturrock as a person but he didn’t like the passing game and basically made the changes he wanted to make.
“He does know how to win games but it is not pretty. He inherited a footballing squad from Mr. Turner but he decided he wanted to bring in his own type of players after a while and change up the tactics.
“He basically said he was going to play more direct and he knew how I felt about that. He said ‘if you stay you will have to follow my rules’ and he gave me time to think about it.”
After picking up an injury he signed on loan for the remainder of the 2005/06 season with Yeovil Town of League One before leaving Wednesday permanently in the summer.
“I never wanted to leave but I knew I would not enjoy playing that style of football. That promotion campaign though has a place in my heart that will never go, I love the club, the staff members and my teammates.
“For the play-off final all the players and staff selected two songs each and we made two CDs. It had a wide range of taste and it was a great idea.”
The 2006/07 season was spent with Oldham Athletic and after making 39 appearances with 3 goals Craig found himself back in the League One play-offs just two years after winning them with Wednesday.
The Latics were beaten by Lancashire rivals Blackpool in the semi-final and he would move to fellow League One team Port Vale for the next season, but was it strange for him being in the same division’s play-offs so soon after winning them on that euphoric day with Wednesday?
“No but it felt horrible losing, horrible! I had a good time at Oldham, it was a strange season being dropped a few times but John Sheridan got the team winning and he was good to me.”
After representing Vale and also Gillingham (on loan) in 2007/08 he made his first move to Thrasyvoulos who were in the top flight of Greek football at the time, but after relegation he returned home to play for Welling United, Dover Athletic and Forest Green Rovers.
In 2010 though he signed for Kansas City Wizards (as they were known before a name change later that year), one of the original MLS clubs from its inaugural season in 1996, and the team finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference in Craig’s first year, in which he played 23 times.
Last year saw them playing under their new name of Sporting Kansas City and they finished 1st in the Eastern Conference before losing to Houston Dynamo in the Conference Final, the last game before the deciding MLS Cup Championship game (won by LA Galaxy).
“All I can say is I joined the best soccer set-up with Sporting KC, this organisation have put everything into the team to give it a real soccer feel. The training ground and pitches are top drawer, the stadium is unreal, the coaches are great and are great people too.
“I enjoyed my two years there fully and Kansas City is a lovely chilled out city with lovely weather.”
Craig initially joined up with the Missouri Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League this winter but returned to Greece in January with his old club Thrasyvoulos for the remainder of the season.
“There is different ownership and management (at Thrasyvoulos) and they needed my help. I did train with the Comets and I was offered a deal for the remainder of the campaign, I did actually agree the deal but left two days later.
“I was a bit sad because the organisation treated me so good and gave me everything and even supported my decision to go. I would like to thank Brian Budzinski, Brian Watley and Kim for the great treatment they gave me.
“Adapting to indoor is not hard footballing-wise but they do have different rules and tactics that were hard to pick up at first but the squad helped me all the time, great lads!”
Of course he is well-versed in the Greek culture now but in his first stay with Thrasyvoulos there were a number of things to adapt to, as discussed recently in my interview with ex-Stoke City defender Wayne Thomas.
“I always wanted to play in Europe and I had the offer from Thrasyvoulos who were entering the top division. The team had a guy who would translate to me and also give me Greek lessons so I started picking up the language quickly.
“Off the field was where most of my problems occurred with things like getting paid and the Greek way of life is a bit different.”
Internationally, Craig has played for Caribbean nation Grenada alongside players such as Hereford United striker Delroy Facey and Wycombe Wanderers defender Leon Johnson.
“Representing Grenada was something I always said I was going to do once I was ready and my family were. Playing in tournaments like the Digicel Cup (Caribbean Cup) and the Gold Cup have been awesome.
“World Cup qualifying did not go to plan but we’ll get that right down the line. Music is more an individual thing, the players have their headphones and listen to their own music but on the coach to and from games and training it is a carnival!
“The music is loud and everybody is singing along, mainly reggae music is playing.”
It is said that travel broadens the mind and it appears the case for Craig when discussing his intentions away from football.
“My mind has changed a lot in the last three years. I do want to coach and I also have other things in mind, watch this space!”