The magical power of Eric Cantona

Sunday 27 November 2022 06:56

We've delved into our United Fan Culture Archive to reproduce this article, featuring David Young from Portadown's memories, which capture perfectly the overwhelming excitement around Eric Cantona during his pomp.

Eric was a god-like figure to United fans back then, and rightly remains so to this day.

David sent in his image, which has lost none of its magical power since the day it was taken, as he gazes up adoringly towards the Frenchman.

“It’s strange to think that I’m older now than he was then,” laughs David. “Because it did feel like he was this giant. The photo was so unexpected. He literally just came over – nobody asked him. I think that’s partly why it meant a lot. It’s stuck in my mind.

“I’d had my hair cut just like him, though I probably didn’t do a great job of it! I didn’t often have my hair like that as a kid, and I’m sure my parents weren’t particularly happy. But when you have a hero, you mimic them.”

David, pictured with his son Oscar, will always cherish the snap with Eric.

David was born in 1987, so the United team of the early 1990s quickly caught the youngster’s eye. But a friendly with hometown club Portadown was his first chance to catch Cantona and co live in action.

First, he had to get a ticket, though. “There was a fella – who passed away in the last couple of years – and he was for a long time the caretaker at the ground or for the club: Nat Richardson,” explains Young. “He’d be very well known within that football club. He used to live a couple of doors up from me and just generously offered to get me a ticket for it. I’m not sure I would have got a ticket otherwise, because they were hotly in demand. Nat was the reason I got one. It was like a dream to see your team.

“There was a festival atmosphere in the town. This was a huge deal. Shamrock Park was built up for the occasion; the stadium was set for a carnival, in terms of the spectacle of it.” And when Cantona strolled over, a magical day was complete, and a lifelong memory secured.

“The picture still hangs up in my room!” he chuckles. “I’m in the blue-and-white shirt. James, my friend, is the one wearing the cap behind me. His brother, Stephen, is the one on the left in the United shirt! And then Brian is to my left, with the red hair. I’m pretty sure that’s his dad with the camera on the far right.

“All my memories and thoughts of Eric are firmly rooted in that photo. People say: ‘Never meet your heroes; you can only be disappointed.’ But for me it’s the opposite. I’ve a lot of respect for his way of life. His beliefs. I know there was always a lot of controversy with Eric, but I would always back him – he’s just a really cool guy. He has absolute integrity. He stands for what he believes in, and not everyone does that.”

Looking at the photo is likely to bring a smile to the face of any Red who lived through this amazing era. And David feels only thanks when he thinks about Eric and that day in Northern Ireland.

“I’m very grateful for that whole era, and what the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson did so the supporters could have so much joy. If I was to think of one moment that could top this photo – it probably still doesn’t – but the Champions League final against Chelsea was unbelievable. The penalty shoot-out.

“I know it’s not been so great in recent times,” he concludes. “But I still manage to get over every now and then – the last time was for a Europa League game against Club Brugge. We smashed them, thankfully. But this photo sums up a great time. I’ll always be a United fan, no matter how things are going."