Cantona: The fan
Such heart-felt declarations were common, and meant more because they were from someone who rarely wasted words (even his “when seagulls follow the trawler” quote had the desired effect of confusing a room full of journalists). He wasn’t the first to openly express his affection to the fans, but it just seemed to mean more coming from him.
When he was at his pomp, following United became as much about watching him as it was the team – something not seen since the days of Bestie bamboozling fullbacks (and wingers, centre backs, and sometimes his own team mates). But whereas the Irishman’s looks attracted legions of female admirers to Old Trafford, Eric’s appeal was purely football. Not attending risked the chance you’d miss the Frenchman’s latest piece of magic. No man is bigger than the club, or so the mantra goes, but Eric came mighty close.
Even retiring at the age of 30, which seemed criminally early, has merely made the love affair stronger. He might not have kicked a ball for us in 15 years, but he’s rarely far from United fans’ thoughts. We have new heroes now, but none that can match the popularity that the Frenchman enjoyed. The “Ooh-aah Cantona” and “12 days of Christmas” chants continue to be sung, something that continues to surprise him.
“The fans watch lots of games and see many players year after year and perhaps they might have forgotten me,” he said recently. “But I’m so glad that they haven’t. I would understand if one day they did forget me, but I love them and the fact that they haven’t. It makes me feel like I am still on the pitch and still at the club.” There are plenty of us that still wish that was the case.
A young fan shows her support for Eric after his Selhurst Park antics
A supporter sporting an Eric mask celebrates winning the 1996 FA Cup Final
United fan Karl Power infiltrated the team photo at Bayern Munich in 2000, ‘in honour of Eric’
Eric signs autographs ahead of United’s win over Roma in April 2008