team-mates, I don’t think there were too many morals around somebody retaliating and sorting it out for you.”
Moments later, Nicky Butt hurtled into a vengeful challenge on Dicks, winning the ball but sending the hulking defender up into the air. Even before Dicks had landed, a gaggle of protagonists were charging towards the scene. The seething Cole was keen to be involved in whatever ruckus was to follow, while Roy Keane’s presence in such a scenario was a foregone conclusion. So too was that of Cantona, already nursing a bloodied mouth after an earlier accidental clash with Marc Rieper. With Butt and Dicks aflame with rage and so many short fuses in attendance, referee Steve Lodge might have feared the worst. Rather, what followed would provide a watershed in Cantona’s United career.
Before Lodge could brandish his yellow card at Butt for the second time in the game, Cole waded into the mire to lament Dicks’ role in proceedings. “It was a bad tackle by Julian,” he recalls. “Someone had to calm me down because they knew that if I’d had the chance, I’d have been sent off as well. Eric was actually the main one calming me down, and it was very, very strange for him to be doing that. Usually, when Eric lost his temper, he lost his temper. He wasn’t captain at the time, but he played a captain’s role that night.”
Once Cole’s punishment had been limited to a mere caution – followed hastily by a diffusive substitution – Cantona continued to perform his revel in self-appointed responsibility as United began to battle without the dismissed Butt. The Daily Mirror’s Harry Harris joked: “Not content with his Henry Kissinger role in that explosive 76th-minute flashpoint, the Frenchman then separated the warring Roy Keane and Dicks. Cantona might look like a convict with his cropped hair, but he was the epitome of restraint, and while all around him were losing theirs, Cantona was in control of his emotions.”