Wednesday 25th January 1995
Crystal Palace v Manchester United (Premier League)

Eric Cantona was always a controversial player, but he literally went over the top when appearing for Manchester United in a Premier League fixture at Crystal Palace. Sent off for kicking Richard Shaw, on his way back to the changing room he leapt over the barrier and attacked Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who had been using abusive language to the Frenchman, with a two-footed kung-fu type assault.

Manchester United immediately suspended the player for the remainder of the season and fined him the maximum amount they could - two weeks wages (about £20,000). He later appeared before the courts charged with common assault. Found guilty, he was originally sentenced by Croydon Magistrates to two weeks in prison which, on appeal, was reduced to 120 hours community service. An FA Disciplinary hearing also extended his worldwide playing ban to 30th September and fined him a further £10,000.

At the press conference after his prison sentence had been commuted to community service Cantona attempted philosophy with the comments - "When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea."

And the other consequences of the incident? The cost to Manchester United was arguably much greater. They lost their Premier League title to Blackburn Rovers by a single point, something which most United fans would agree would not have happened if the mercurial Frenchman had not been out of the side. Paul Ince, who had also been arrested and charged with assault following another incident at the same match was later cleared of threatening behaviour and assaulting a fan. However Matthew Simmons, the Palace fan, was found guilty of provoking the attack and was fined £500 and banned from all football for 12 months. He was also jailed for a week for jumping a bench in court to attack a prosecuting solicitor!

After his 8-month ban Cantona returned to football on 1st October 1995 and scored from the penalty spot in the 2-2 Premier League draw at Old Trafford against Liverpool. He helped United to regain the title that season and to confirm the transition from being l'enfant terrible to the prodigal son he was voted 'Football of the Year' by the Football Writers' Association in April 1996.


Eric Cantona on the events at Palace:
"Before that night I was behaving like a child. I was prepared to repeat the same mistake again and again. After it, I realised that was an irresponsible habit  I don't think of him (Simmons) much, only that his assault on the lawyer last Thursday speaks for itself."

Alex Ferguson looking back on the same events:
"I don't think any player in the history of football will get the sentence he got unless they had killed Bert Millichip's dog. When someone is doing well we have to knock him down. We don't do it with horses. Red Rum is more loved than anyone I know but he must have lost one race." (Millichip was the FA Chairman)

What Matthew Simmons said he yelled at Cantona:
"Off you go, Cantona - it's an early shower for you."

Gordon Strachan on the philosophical comments of his former team-mate:
"If a Frenchman goes on about seagulls, trawlers and sardines, he's called a philosopher. I'd just be called a short Scottish bum talking crap."

What Brian Clough had to say:
"I'd have cut his balls off."






"The first half was end-to-end stuff. In contrast, in this second half it's been one end to the other."
Lou Macari

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