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

Sign up for our news alerts today!

Our editors' picks for the day's top news delivered to your inbox or phone.

Sign up for email alerts Sign up for mobile alerts
1
2 3 4 5 6
7

Latest Stories from SNAP.PA

The Press Association’s education correspondent discusses Labour’s tuition fee plans

Read more

Committee wants to find out ‘and have a better understanding of the eco-systems that will be affected’.

Read more

Clarkson doesn’t think Top Gear is for “for people who wear pink ties”. We fear he may be limiting his audience.

Read more

Promoted content

A look at one of our previous Design Fairs

Chelsea Old Town Hall will be the venue for the renowned Desire Fair from 6-8 March 2015. This stunning mixed media jewellery and silversmithing event where visitors can purchase direct from contemporary designer makers selected from the best in the UK is an event not to be missed.

Take our quiz and find out!

A survey conducted last year revealed that Britain is the fourth sexiest country in the world, with the UK sex toy industry worth an estimated £250 million a year.

What is this?

Near You Now

Don't Miss...

Crystal Palace Transfer

Thursday, February 5, 2015
Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew. Picture: PA Wire

Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew will throw non-league signing Keshi Anderson straight into the squad for Saturday’s Premier League relegation clash at Leicester.

Read more
Alan Pardew
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
West Brom's Saido Berahino. Picture: PA

Liverpool and Tottenham are reportedly leading the chase for West Brom striker Saido Berahino, who has strongly hinted he will leave the club at the end of the season.

Read more
Mario Balotelli
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Arsenal's Gabriel Paulista and Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha. Pictures: Getty/PA

The winter transfer window has closed and London’s Premier League and Football League clubs are hoping they have made the signings which could make the difference between now and May. Here, we pick our top five deals from the capital’s clubs.

Read more
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Juan Cuadrado's arrival at Chelsea and Gabriel Paulista's move to Arsenal were two of the biggest January transfer window deals. Pictures: Getty

After a hectic finale to the 2015 January transfer window, we bring you a full list of all the ins and outs from London’s 13 Premier League and Football League clubs.

Read more
Andre Schurrle