25th January 1995
Crystal Palace v Manchester United (Premier League)
CANTONA ATTACKS PALACE SUPPORTER
Eric Cantona was always a
controversial player, but he literally went over the top when appearing
for Manchester United in a 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
on the events at Palace:
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."
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)
Brian Clough had to say:
"I'd have cut his balls off."
Matthew Simmons said he yelled at Cantona:
"Off you go, Cantona - it's an early shower for you."
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