Former Man Utd director reveals role in Cantona speech after Crystal Palace kick

16:34 26 November 2012

Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona's notorious kung-fu kick aimed at a Crystal Palace fan in 1995. Photo: Steve Morton/EMPICS Sport

EMPICS Sport

Maurice Watkins often wonders what happened to the piece of paper upon which one of the most famous phrases football has ever known was written.

It was after an appeal hearing at Croydon Magistrates’ Court following his assault on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons that Eric Cantona delivered the words: “When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

At the time it seemed like a bizarre off-the-cuff remark before Cantona ended his brief press conference.

Later, it was revealed to be the Frenchman’s assessment of the media pack following him around on the hunt for a story. And Cantona knew what he was going to say all along.

“The whole case had been so big I felt Eric had to say something,” said Watkins, at the time a United director and their legal advisor.

“We started to draft a speech on a piece of paper and he asked what the boat was that catches fish. Then he asked what the birds were that fly over the sea.

“Eric went on writing then showed me what he wanted to say.

“Everyone thinks because of the expression on my face that I didn’t know what he was going to say. But I did and I often wonder what happened to that piece of paper.”

Cantona’s words brought some kind of closure to one of the most infamous chapters in football history.

Sent off for a challenge on Palace defender Richard Shaw, Cantona was making his way to the dressing rooms in the corner of Selhurst Park when he heard Simmons shout at him.

Cantona launched himself at the supporter with a kung-fu kick, before following up with a couple of well-aimed punches.

“I was having a cup of tea in the directors’ room before being called to the dressing room because police were contemplating some sort of action,” said Watkins.

“From then it became clear what a significant event it was. Legally, I will probably never have a case like that again.”

Almost immediately, United banned Cantona for the remainder of the season - a total of 21 matches - which the Football Association increased to eight months.

Watkins, and Sir Alex Ferguson, remain of the view that the additional punishment was unfair and borne out of the FA’s need to look as though they were actually doing something.

Yet the loss of Cantona’s liberty was almost worse.

“We made an immediate mistake on the day of the case because we decided to walk to the court with a police escort,” said Watkins.

“It was only 100 yards but there were so many press people about it was very difficult to move. I was nearly knocked down on more than one occasion.

“We thought it was going rather well until the magistrate sentenced Eric to two weeks in prison.

“We lodged an immediate appeal and bail application but Eric was pretty upset when he was whipped down to the cells.”

There then followed an almost comic three-and-a-half hours during which a bail application to the same bench was turned down, forcing Watkins and his legal team to dash up the road to the nearby crown court to make a further attempt to get Cantona released.

“It was a mad three hours,” said Watkins.

“I did manage to see Eric for a little while but there was not much time to do anything.

“The thing was, whilst you go prepared for anything we were surprised at the sentence because it went against all the established protocols.”

Related articles

Live Blog Transfer Window Live July 25

 

Latest Stories

46 minutes ago
33 Portland Place looks peaceful on the outside, but if these walls could talk... [Photo from Google StreetView]

A swanky 24-bedroom house in the West End that was Britian’s answer to the Playboy mansion is up for sale – because its fraudster owner needs the cash for legal fees.

Read more
07:25
The incident happened between Ann Street and Villas Road on the Glyndon Estate in Plumstead (Pic: Google Street View)

A 19-year-old woman was raped as she made her way home through the Glyndon Estate in Plumstead.

Read more
06:32
A general view of housing near Clapham as London rents now double those in the rest of the UK (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Rents in London are twice as high as those across the rest of the UK for the first time ever, new research has revealed.

Read more

Quizzes

Guess the manager quiz. Here's a hint, it's not these four.

The managerial merry-go-round spins quickly these days so do you think you’ve got the knowledge to recognise the faces of all these football bosses?

Read more
Croatia's Daniel Prajnic, France's Paul Pogba and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo... three hair-raising World Cup stars (Picture: Archant/Getty)

The World Cup is a showcase of fantastic football... and terrible hairstyles. Try this quiz and test your knowledge of the wackiest barnets in Brazil.

Read more
World Cup countries quiz

It's about time you refreshed your brains about the countries competing in Brazil.

Read more
Which London club play their home games at this stadium...? (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Do you fancy yourself as a football ground buff? Test your stadium knowledge with this brilliant quiz.

Read more

Crystal Palace Transfer

Yesterday, 16:56
Ravel Morrison. (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)

It has been a busy Sunday at London 24 HQ and it is only fair that we bring you all the news that you’re eagerly awaiting.

Read more
Jose Mourinho
Yesterday, 08:08
Samuel Eto'o. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Rising on a Sunday morning is tough but the world of football never sleeps and there is plenty of transfer news about.

Read more
Samuel Eto
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Mario Balotelli of Italy during training session on June 22, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

It is set to be another busy day transfer-wise and so we have compiled all of this morning’s news from around the web to get us underway.

Read more
Didier Drogba
Friday, July 25, 2014
Keep up to date with all the latest transfer news from London24

It’s been another busy day with plenty of transfer rumours. London24 provides a handy round-up of all the action. Our live blog will be back on Monday.

Read more
Lukas Podolski