Eric Cantona's nine-month suspension for the infamous 'kung-fu' kick on Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons in 1995 attracted frenzied press coverage in England and around the world. One person that vociferously defended the Frenchman at the time was Paddy Crerand, who says he felt duty-bound to speak out against the tide of criticism directed at Cantona.
Crerand wrote about defending Eric in his autobiography Never Turn The Other Cheek - the title itself a reference to not shirking confrontation on the tough streets of Glasgow where he grew as well as on the football pitch. "I defended him and got slaughtered for it in the media. That didn't bother me one bit as most of the people offering opinions knew nothing about football or United. And if I had been in Eric's boots when that idiot came at him from the stands, I would have done exactly the same."
Paddy continues to be typically forthright in his autobiography, while to ManUtd.com this week he reflected: "I was supportive of Eric because the way United players have been treated by the authorities down the years is harsher than with other players. There have been many situations where the same crime is dealt with differently because it’s United. Rio Ferdinand was a great example of that, and Eric was too.
"I think at United you should stick by your own, you have to. Whoever is the top dog, everyone wants to knock them down and United have been top dogs for such a long time that everyone wants to have a pop. So I think we’ve always got the rough end of the stick."
Crerand perhaps felt so strongly because he saw in Cantona some of his own feisty characteristics. "I really appreciated that fire Eric had, it was part of what made him," Paddy says. "You have to have that, in my opinion anyway. If you look at the great players of Manchester United a lot of the time you have that desire to be a winner, and sometimes that manifests itself with an uncompromising determination.
"Look at Wayne Rooney – when he goes in for a tackle I shut my eyes! He’s as bad as Paul Scholes… no, he’s not that bad! Eric had that fiery side too and to a large extent I don’t think there’s any harm in it if, in general, you control it. After that incident Eric did control it, he harnessed it and it made him a better player."