Kung-Fu fighting

It made headlines around the world, whilst the press conference that followed it became almost as famous for the bizarre philosophical statements offered up by the man at the centre of the controversy, Manchester United striker Eric Cantona.

On January 25th, 1995, his United side were playing Crystal Palace in a  league match at Selhurst Park in South London.

The first half was tetchy, with some heavy tackles inflicted on United players, all of which went unpunished by the referee Alan Willkie.

So bad was the kicking handed -out to his players that United manager Alex Ferguson told the referee he should do his job.

Four minutes after half-time Cantona took matters into his own hands, responding to another heavy tackle from Richard Shaw with a retaliatory kick that earned him  a straight red card.

Cantona stared at the referee in disbelief, before beginning to trudge down the side of the touchline.

It was that moment that palace supporter Matthew Simmons decided to have his say. He raced to the front of the pitch and told Cantona he could return to France in what may euphemistically be termed industrial language.

The French forward was having none of it, and launched a kung-fu kick o Simon and followed that up wit h a punch.

Players from both sides rushed to intervene and pull Cantona away, but, at the time, not many people inside the ground realised what had happened, whilst Ferguson at the end of the game merely told him that he could not act in such a way.

However. the story was soon all over the press and made news headlines around the world, even in an era where social media did not yet exist.

Initially there was talk of Cantona being sacked by United, but, after a period of reflection, Ferguson came round to his side.  Instead, he was banned for the erst of the season and fined a maximum of two weeks’ wages.

He also faced a criminal charge of assault, which he admitted and was given a two-week prison sentence, although, pending an appeal, he was allowed to go free on bail. This was later overturned and he was given a community service instead, which he served by coaching children at United’s training ground.

Simmons himself was found guilty by Croydon magistrates of suing threatening language and behaviour towards Cantona, and, at his trial, had to be restrained by police officers after jumping over a bench and putting the prosecuting counsel in a headlock.

He was banned from all football matches for a year, fined and then given seven days in jail for contempt of court for his assault on the prosecutor.

Almost as notorious as the incident itself was the press conference afterwards in which Cantona uttered the immortal lines: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they  think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

He then thanked the journalists present, got up from his seat and abruptly left, leaving the media room both surprised and baffled.

Even to this day, nobody knows what the enigmatic Frenchman actually meant -and he has never fully elaborated since!

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