Let’s get something clear from the start. I think Eric Cantona was dead right to kick Matthew Simmons in the chest and I’m only sorry he didn’t get over the barrier and kick him some more because Simmons was a scumbag who deserved every bit of the kicking he got from the volatile and hugely-talented Frenchman.
How do I know Simmons was a scumbag? Simple. At the subsequent court hearing where he was found guilty of threatening behaviour, Simmons jumped over a table and attacked the prosecuting counsel, but luckily for him Eric Cantona wasn’t present. He just had to deal with ordinary policemen.
Cantona was right to attack the horrible little scumbag, who scurried down from his ninth-row seat to hurl abuse at the player and he was right for many reasons. There was too much of that going on and nobody was doing anything about it.
So yes. I’m on Eric’s side. I was on his side then and I’m still on his side. Let’s leave it in no doubt.
Unlike many Irish people, however, I’m not a fervent supporter of any UK club, except our little group’s fun-filled adventures following Scunthorpe United, but that’s a story for another day. I’m not a true believer, but I’ll never forget the day I watched that game on TV, and that’s for many reasons.
Manchester had just bought Andy Cole from Newcastle (cue all the jokes) for huge money. I think it was £9 million plus a Keith Gillespie swap. Cole, in theory a striker, was terrible that season while at the same time Cantona, who cost only £2 million, was magnificent in midfield and scored most of United’s goals. It was all useful ammunition for torturing my Man Utd friends, but I was never an ABU since I’ve always regarded such attitudes as deeply anti-sport and that’s why I found myself watching the United-Palace game in my neighbour’s house. We’d watch anything.
Cantona’s red card for a questionable foul perhaps wasn’t a huge surprise, given the bite-yer-ankles attention he was getting from Richard Shaw. Niggled beyond his trigger-point, when Cantona finally lashed out at Shaw, nobody was surprised. Job done. United were down to ten men. Result.
The problem came with the walk of shame as Eric made his way to the tunnel and had to walk past the Palace supporters, including Simmons who deliberately ran to the edge of the pitch in order to fling abuse.
Cantona wasn’t having it, and launched himself over the barrier, making a very satisfying impact on the ratbag. Not long after that, you could buy a t-shirt with two footprints on the chest. I bought one.
You might think I’m wrong in defending Eric Cantona for this action. Some people think he was a disgrace to his club and a disgrace to soccer, but I felt at the time he was standing up for all decent people in sport when the authorities were failing to deal with lowlifes who were dragging it down. And I think history has been much kinder to Eric Cantona than it has been to Matthew Simmons.
He won’t be shouting abuse at any player any time soon.
The game was a 1-1 draw, incidentally.