The day I met Cantona

Monday 24 May 2021 16:42

To mark the birthday of the King, Manchester United fan John White shares his personal recollections of a memorable meeting with the legendary Eric Cantona.

During the 1990s, Official Branches of the Manchester United Supporters’ Clubs used to be able to meet their Player of the Season after a game at Old Trafford. It was our way of thanking the player for his contribution to the team.

The members of Carryduff MUSC voted for their Player of the Year in April and I then contacted Barry Moorhouse, the Membership Secretary at United to arrange to meet the chosen player. In season 1993/94, our choice was Eric Cantona. He scored 18 times for us in the Premiership in his 34 league games that season and would go on to score two penalties in our 4-0 FA Cup final win over Chelsea at Wembley Stadium. 

Barry arranged for us to meet the Frenchman after our last home game of the season, against Coventry City on 8 May 1994 so 55 of us set off for Manchester from Belfast on the Saturday morning and the next day we saw a quite boring 0-0 draw, but the result did not matter as Steve Bruce was presented with the Premier League trophy at the end of the game.
Eric in action against Coventry, on the day United fan John White first met the Frenchman.
After the match, we made our way to meet Barry at a designated spot inside Old Trafford. He brought us along various concourses underneath the seating area at Old Trafford until we finally arrived at a door which led down to the players’ dressing room. Everyone got their cameras ready (mobile phones with cameras were a long way off) and the item they wanted Eric to sign.

Barry stood at the door and gave me the nod that our majestic no.7 was on his way. All our members got in line and out walked Eric. My first thought was ‘Flip me, he’s massive!’ He was dressed in a full-length purple overcoat, navy blue suit, green shirt and navy blue tie. He looked exquisite, stood with his barrel chest stuck out and a warm smile greeting us as he surveyed the room in the same manner he surveyed everyone around him on the pitch.

Barry introduced Eric to me. I put out my hand to say hello and Eric smothered it in his and almost crushed it as we came together… I was lost for words! The Frenchman sat at a table and our members filed past one by one, stopping to get their item signed and posing with him for a photograph.
What I remember most was that he got up from his chair for every photograph and placed his arm around anyone who stood next to him. Our branch chairman John Dempsey – known to all as JD – turned to me and said: “That’s pure class.”

With everyone wanting more than one item signed and their photograph taken with Eric, it was taking a long time to work our way down the queue. I am convinced passers-by were jumping on to the end of our queue and so JD stood at the back of it as the last man. About half an hour into our meeting with Eric, I noticed a United official approaching Barry, whispering in his ear. Barry walked over to Eric and said “Eric, Isabelle would like to go now.” Eric looked up at Barry from his chair and said: “I am with the fans.” How brilliant an answer was that?

Another 15 minutes passed with there still being about 10 or so fans in the queue, and the same official approached Barry a second time and again said something to him. Barry approached Eric who at this point was signing a large poster for a little girl, to repeat the request to wrap things up. But still Eric stayed behind as his family headed home. I was dumbstruck. Here was the most famous footballer in England, probably the world, and all he was thinking about was not disappointing his fans. From that day on Eric went stratospheric in my admiration for him.

Sir Alex's surprise Cantona revelation


King Eric could have become a United player before linking up with Leeds back in 1991.

When I told JD what had just happened and that Eric was staying behind until we were finished, my mate was as quick as a flash and shouted across the room; “Here Barry, if the big lad is stuck for a lift home, me and Chalkie (that’s me) will take him. We’ve the car parked outside, so it’s no bother to us.”

Barry shuddered at the thought of letting Eric get into a car with the two of us. I am sure Barry was thinking, ‘Those two will take him back to the hotel and probably try and talk Eric into going back to Carryduff on the coach with them.’ I must admit the thought did cross our minds… well, the hotel part anyway.

Barry quickly replied, “Does your insurance policy cover you for a £5 million loss?”

JD turned and looked at me and said, “Chalkie, does my policy cover me for £5 million?”

I replied, “Dunno mate, you’d need to check the small print.”

It was like a scene from Only Fools and Horses when Rodney told Del Boy, “I am a good salesman," and his brother replied, “Do me a favour, Rodney! You couldn’t flog a black cat to a witch!” JD and I couldn’t flog our offer to Barry to take Eric home.

John White is a founder member and the Branch Secretary of Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club. His new book Manchester United: The Making of a Football Dynasty: 100 Great Matches - 1878-2021 is out now.