Fifteen years ago today, Manchester United took on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a fixture that received worldwide attention.
Well into the match Manchester United forward Eric Cantona and Eagles defender Richard Shaw got into a scuffle. Cantona was surging on for a possible counterattack but was stymied when Shaw held onto his jersey. In retaliation, Cantona blatantly kicked the defender and the referee had no choice but to give Cantona his marching orders.
After much protest from the rest of the Red Devils, Cantona went on his way; but before he could reach the tunnel, Matthew Simmons, a Crystal Palace supporter had his undivided attention.
According to Cantona, Simmons was spewing racial remarks and threw a projectile at the Frenchman. The short tempered Cantona sprinted towards the fan and launched a kung-fu kick of Bruce Lee like proportions and bombarded him with haymaking rights.
Security and teammates separated the two and after much bewilderment, the match went on with Manchester United shorthanded.
After the much covered event, it was discovered that Simmons had been arrested previously for aggravated assault and robbery where he attacked a gas station employee with a wrench. The fan had also attended several National Front rallies (a white member’s only radical fascist group).
Simmons was fined £500 and sentenced to one week in jail for threatening and abusive behavior, had his season tickets for Selhurst Park revoked, and was banned from all football grounds in England and Wales for one year.
As for Cantona, his punishment for the unruly behavior was much more drastic.
The forward was originally sentenced to two weeks in jail for assault, but in an appeals court on March 31st, had his sentence reduced to 120 hours of community service.
Furthermore, the club fined and suspended Cantona for the remaining four months of the season (and as a result lost their League title race to Blackburn Rovers), but the FA increased the exile to eight months. FIFA also enacted a suspension with the same duration to prevent Cantona from seeking playtime anywhere else.
In addition, Cantona was stripped of his captaincy from the French National Team.
The only group to have directly benefited and profited from the incident was British rock group Ash who released their single “Kung-Fu,” with Cantona kicking Simmons on the cover.
In recent or past interviews well after the Selhurst Park incident, Cantona remains unremorseful of the event. In 2007 he reflected on his career and in an interview he said, “I have a lot of good moments, but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan.”
However, Cantona finds one thing regrettable in regards to the hullabaloo. In a 2008 interview with the Croydon Guardian, he stated, “… I should have punched him harder.”
Regardless what a fan says or does, a player must be a professional at all times and never attack a spectator. Granted, they can be inappropriate at times but they are no means to launch an attack.
Cantona did not exhibit professional conduct in the matter and was thus punished accordingly. Never touch a fan in retaliation. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.