Crerand: Why I defended Eric
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.”
Cantona’s misdemeanours enhanced his mystique, though he quite evidently possessed something more than mere ability to play a pretty pass or score important goals. He was the ultimate showman and as such Crerand pays the Frenchman one of the finest compliments he could: “In all my time at Old Trafford, I’ve never seen any player who had an impact like Eric Cantona did.
“There are legends like Bobby Charlton, Best, Law, who I played with, and modern day greats like Giggs and Scholes, who are part of the fabric of the club – great servants and great players. Unsurpassed in many ways. But Eric just had something extra – it went beyond being a fantastic footballer. It was the charisma, the showmanship: he was the most influential player on the fans I have ever seen at Old Trafford.
“He had a magic about him – it’s something that’s really hard to define – but he had it in spades. When he walked into a room it went quiet. I was very impressed with him when he came over for the unveiling of the manager’s statue. He came into the room when everyone was having a meal prior to going out to the unveiling and he went round every table and shook everyone’s hand, which I thought was lovely.”
There is a danger in instances such as that cold January night in 1995 that loyalty blinds your judgement. But Eric was one of our own and there was no question of sticking by him.