Eric Cantona in the black Manchester United kit for a match at Southampton in 1993/94

Something special happens when United play in black

Wednesday 22 April 2020 09:30

Every generation has a hero, and for most Reds of my age, that hero was Eric Cantona. And when we closed our eyes and thought of 'Le Roi', we saw him clad all in black, in that famous mid-90s away kit.

Hands on hips, collar upturned; a man afraid of nothing. And as cool as . . . whatever word of profanity you think should be inserted here.
In my young head, Cantona in that rig-out epitomised what United were at that time – powerful, confident, swaggering and scintillating.
And every great team, for better or worse, always comes to be associated with one particular kit in your mind's eye.
Arsenal away was a good opportunity for Eric to strut his stuff in black.
That black away effort with a gold trim, with the name of the then sponsor Sharp Viewcam emblazoned across its front, was for years my favourite United shirt.
So it raised a smile when Bruno Fernandes picked out the current black change effort as his own favourite.
Fernandes has been compared to Cantona – for his instant impact, his comparable position on the pitch – since arriving, so maybe these two creative spirits see something in the mysteriousness of the dark colour that inspires them.
Strangely, we hadn’t won a game in the new black kit all season until the Portuguese arrived. Then we battered LASK 5-0 in the first match he wore it.
It's often said black is a colour that 'never goes out of fashion' and that feels true. Rock bands are always cyclically returning to the classic leather-jacketed look based around it. From the Velvet Underground in the sixties to the Arctic Monkeys in the last decade. 
Johnny Cash – one of the few men capable of matching Cantona's cool – even penned a famous hit called The Man in Black, inevitably about an enigmatic outsider who empathised with the downtrodden in society. Remind you of a particular Frenchman, by any chance?
Black is commonly associated with romance and artistry. It’s worn by poets and philosophers, the powerful and the passionate. If you opt to wear all black, it’s interpreted that you mean business. You’re probably not nipping out for a quick sundae.
But it can also mean anything, so if you’ve got a personality like Cantona, you can make it your own.
You, the reader, will, by the law of averages, probably be of a different age to me. 
The United you dream about may be the team that won the 1968 European Cup in rich blue. Or the side that trounced Arsenal in 6-2 in 1990, with Lee Sharpe flashing that acid house-style Adidas number all over Highbury.
United's most famous win of recent times came in pink, in Paris. No doubt there'll be kids who buzz off that shirt in the same way I loved the black kit of 1993-95.
But to me, it will always be black. Eric finishing a rapid counter-attack at Bramall Lane in 1993. Chipping Tim Flowers at Southampton. And, yes, taking no nonsense from a variety of irritants on the way to three of his four red cards at the club.
Because black can also be the colour of danger – used on hazard and warning signs. And, let’s be honest, we all want our football team to be feared by our opponents and rivals.
Bruno rocks black with a swagger, like Eric used to do.
Ultimately, whatever your favourite kit, it will be loved because of the team that plays, or played, in it. So let’s all hope that we’re still here in 20 years, talking about the current black away strip as the one that makes you think of the glorious Bruno-inspired epoch. Or United’s Rashford-led renaissance.
Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of Eric. The leader of our football team, the King, Mon Dieu, or as my imagination remembers him: the man in black.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.