On January 25, 1995, one of the most astonishing moments in football history took place in a match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park. In the 47th minute, United’s star man Eric Cantona launched himself over an advertising board to kung-fu kick and punch a fan in the crowd.
The incident landed the eccentric Frenchman with an initial two-week prison sentence, which was later changed to a 120-hour community service order. He also received an eight-month ban from football and a £30,000 fine.
So why exactly did Cantona kick Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons? And, all these years later, was it really worth it?
Eric Cantona kicked and punched Matthew Simmons after the Crystal Palace supporter allegedly called him a “French b*****d” and told him to “f**k off back to France”.
The extraordinary moment occurred seconds after Cantona had been sent off for a kick on Palace’s Richard Shaw.
Manchester United kitman Norman Davies and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel immediately raced over to the side of the pitch to usher Cantona down the tunnel. The Palace fans, meanwhile, reacted with chants of, “You dirty northern b*****d! You dirty northern b*****d!”
Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction to Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick
If ever a time called for Sir Alex Ferguson to dish out his famous “hairdryer” treatment to a player, surely this was it.
But apparently not.
According to United legend Andrew Cole, the Scot reacted furiously to his side drawing 1-1 with a team further down the table. By contrast, Cantona’s moment of madness received a relatively relaxed response from Fergie.
“He’s fuming that we didn’t win the game,” Cole recalled on talkSPORT in 2021. “He’s come in [to the dressing room] and started having a barney at a few people, and then he said [calmly] to Eric, ‘Eric, what you thinking? Eric, you can’t go around doing things like that.'”
Desperate to find out why United’s number seven assaulted Simmons, the English media gathered at a press conference to speak to the man himself. In typical Cantona style, he delivered a short quote that still gets talked about to this day.
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” Cantona stated. “Thank you very much.”
And with that, the press conference was over.
Does Eric Cantona regret the kung-fu kick?
The simple answer is no. Since retiring from football in 1997, the Old Trafford icon has repeatedly said he would not have behaved any differently if he could turn back time.
Cantona’s main issue centred around the ban imposed on him by the Football Association.
“It was difficult because I had to train and focus on the day I will come back, but nine months is very long,” Cantona said on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2009. “I was 27, I still had passion for the game, so it was very difficult, but maybe I deserved it. I had time to think about it.”
Cantona made his long-awaited return to the pitch in October 1995. Many critics initially thought he looked off the pace, but it didn’t take long for the United legend to find his best form again.
He ended the 1995-96 season with 19 goals in 38 games, including the winner in the 1996 FA Cup final against Liverpool.