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On the 21st anniversary of Eric Cantona's signing - here's Red News on Eric Cantona at Manchester United and his impact, and our love!

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  • On the 21st anniversary of Eric Cantona's signing - here's Red News on Eric Cantona at Manchester United and his impact, and our love!

    Red News on Eric Cantona.


    Framed Manchester United Shirt - Signed by Eric Cantona


    <iframe src="http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?t=httpmanunblog-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00755BDFE&ref=tf_til&fc1=0 00000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000 000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0"></iframe>


    or a 1996 Cup Final shirt signed by Eric Cantona


    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B...tpmanunblog-21


    this article first appeared in Red News 195


    A print or digital subscription http://www.rednews.co.uk/subscription.php


    http://www.rednews.co.uk/current-issue.php


    The Red News app on itunes - at http://bit.ly/RedNewsApp


    The Red News Kindle store http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barney/e/B009N4YJ0Q/


    Eric Cantona King shirt on white - http://www.rednews.co.uk/shop/items.php?itemid=59
    Eric Cantona King shirt on black http://www.rednews.co.uk/shop/items.php?itemid=54


    Alex Ferguson: “If there was ever a player in this world who was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona. I think he had been searching all his life for somebody who looked at him, and made him feel that a place was his home. He'd travelled around so many different countries; there is a wee bit of the gypsy about some people. But when he came here, he knew: this is my place. You could just tell.”


    We came, he scored, Utd conquered.


    It is 1994. Nowhere in particular on our United travels and everywhere in between at the same time. Where we once dreamed of fulfilling the quest for just one league title, this United side having finally done just that are taking to reclaiming it for a second time with grace, and the swoons at the arrival of Eric Cantona a year before that gave way to applause, stunned satisfaction, is now resembling something like worship.


    The songs are in place, even echoing such religious fervour with their content and I am toasting our saviour from afar after another glorious performance with a United head who is a rum fucker and served his time in all ways possible supporting United. He appears emotional as he talks of a move Eric made that day - be it a turn, a spot of arrogance, a chip, a swivel, a cross, a goal, a free-kick, a bit of red devilish inside all great Utd geniuses, or merely a puffing of chest that would fell a proud peacock. The detail is incidental, we had so many to choose from. The surprise is what he made United fans feel - this leveller - as this old hood grabbed my arm and said, to which would become a chorus of similar sentiment over that incredible period, reducing grown men to the wonderment of childhood. “I'd have his kids. Hell, he can have mine. He can have the missus if he wants.” Eric Cantona, the provider of absurd fantasies, that on his part at least, came true.
    I could give you the details of course - thanks Sergeant Howard Wilkinson for your puzzling and absurd reply to that unanswerable equation of ‘can we have Denis Irwin back?’, of how Eric lifted a good United team to greatness, and regale you with the goals and achievements; but you know all that. Bet many are in your head right now - Sunderland, the shirt flapping at Wednesday, Selhurst Park, seagulls, that imperiously crucial goal at Newcastle, the arms outstretched. The the. The difference.


    His signing of his age where there was no rolling news service to finally bring us something of interest; so we all had our moment. Ceefax's sparse colour revealing his name with ours and a stunned blink that surely they've fucked up in their typing department, or the half hourly local radio sports bulletins, or a phone call made from the old, time consuming, twist the diall system for each number as you finally shouted at mates: ‘Guess who we have gone and fucking signed?!’, as thousands of Red homes had names plucked out of the air, but few guessing right. And put out of their misery to save time, the answer rewarded with a ‘you're fucking kidding me, right?’ and then a jig of delight as most knew how good he was - we'd seen that overhead attempt recently in their whites at Old Trafford and realised what an immediate impact he'd been for them. It seemed unbelievable. It was. But we didn't give a shit as we digested the news on our sofas or on our way home, unable to text mates so having the time to take it all in by ourselves, with ourselves. This wasn't just bloody replacing an injured Dion Dublin was it?! And I shudder if the attempts instead to sign David Hirst had come off. What history then?


    Some did have their reservations because of where he'd come from; but it didn't last. A mate in K said he'd never sing his name. As we danced six months later watching the Holy Grail being walked around in the lap of honour after Blackburn I think that same lad was singing ‘Ohh Ahh’ louder than the rest of K itself. Last issue we put to bed any false bravado that without him, we'd have still won the league that season, but it was all so much more than wanting his babies or being a catalyst. He gave us a swagger, or gave us it back. In a changing Manchester he epitomised the upheavals going on around town and instead of retreating into conformity, like our city itself, he embraced the Vive la différence.


    And Manchester United fans did what they do best. Given the world by our stars, heroes and legends, we defend them and treat them like no others. His battles were ours, and this was personified when even Alex Ferguson travelled on the back of his Harley Davidson to share some French dish in Paris as stopped by the ever petty FA from playing in behind closed doors training matches during his ban, he wavered at the advances coming from Milan. Of all the conversations had between the two, it is this one which fascinates me; at what Fergie told Eric he shouldn't throw away. But we know really, don't we?


    We'd have forgiven him for nearly everything, his enemies were our enemies, and though of course it helped in the immediate aftermath of Selhurst Park that the Daily Star revealed Matthew Simmons' unsavoury past, the devious nature in the FA reneging on their deal with United who let us not forget banned Eric as a club and then saw the authorities extend that ban, saw not a resolve tested, but strengthened, unlike Rio, this was Eric. If it seemed incredible that his support could grow when out for so many months, that is what happened, as months reduced to weeks and then days, the sardines were toasted and we welcomed him back with gusto.


    Scores of Reds headed on a non match day to South London to offer support when he appeared in court after some silly bint appeared to want to make a name for herself and jail him (Mrs Jean Pearch, if you’re asking). He wasn’t necessarily always right, and at Swindon he showed he could be as crude as he was creative, but most of the time when the red mist came, for some reason it didn't hamper his time at United as much as it could have, and we found enough excuses. Perhaps because we knew and valued his importance so much that we'd turn a blind eye whatsoever, and then, say with that oafish cretin Neil Ruddock when he tried to turn his collar down and he paid him back by destroying him with ability, his running battles were fun to watch in a time when the anything goes mentality and era we'd been brought up in the 70s and 80s was starting to be dragged and screaming from the room into this new PL choreographed theme park. (hence the PL nowadays actually trying to stop youtube video from Selhurst Park as it doesn't fit the brand).


    We came, he saw, and we fell in love. You could live in pseuds corner as you try to sum it all up but he had that affect. Grown men slobbered, as we compared what we were seeing to artistry. What could be perceived as limited, short mundane encounters remain treasured as the ‘time you met Eric’, as what would once be considered sacrilege of bestowing Denis' crown on anyone else seemed to fit so easy. Hell, what seems so irrational in having to explain nabbing his pants (M&S, surprisingly…) and shorts after he left one of the beach football events at Brighton, and then (after a wash, I’m not that bad...) wearing then on my wedding day seems so logical - what else would you do with Eric’s pants?! That same event as we buzzed about speaking to him, there he still was, an hour later, the touch of a genius that such company usually possesses, not just with an aura (Sir Matt had it) but also never taking for granted those that made them as he stayed behind to sign every single Red waiting for an autograph. Young, old and very old. Grown men growing distant with their game, he, their last real hero.


    Some would even call it stalking as we leapt at any chance to try and get near him. In the away ends of games I could see the colour drain from the face of brother Joel and father Albert as we bumped into each other (me, of course, more doing the bumping). If it had been a long day I had an embarrassing penchant to regale the whole Cantona family tree and this was best highlighted at Wembley for the FA Cup Final in 1996 where already buzzing from that goal and a day which remains bright as a moment preceeding 19 when we really did turn the tables over them and never looked back their way since (and of course their Cream suits), we once again owed it all (or mostly) to Eric and his ways. As I was about to leave the stands, the game long since ended, there up above was Father Albert and I shouted to all around me: “That is the Dad of the King, the Father of our Jesus, so that must make him God! His sperm made Cantona”. I adopted the last bit ‘his sperm made Cantona’ into a song hoping those around me would join in, but even in this moment of delirium I could sense their embarrassment as Albert raced to the exit door quicker than I could get to him. He did kiss me on the cheeks - probably if you can't run away from them, then just humour them approach - after Juve away when they tried to jib us into the players’ entrance to meet Eric. The old bill wouldn't have it. He made us all behave irrationally.


    And not long after, Eric was gone. I wrote to Albert thanking him for what he'd done - fatherhood, basically - but strangely enough he never wrote back. Eric had that affect. I'm daft. But all that sounds sub bloody normal! The things he had us doing, saying; I can only liken it to a drug. And one of the mad ones at that. We were hooked.


    The collar, the shrugs, the facial expressions which said so much from so little; the moments, hell we even fell in love with his plaster cast. He'd make shit Utd kits look cool,the joined at the eyebrows werewolf approach look Godly. And we finally knew how older Reds felt as they clasped King Denis closely and never let him go even after that day (when he didn't relegate us) in '74.
    Eric left too early, we thought at the time, some even cried and gnashed at all he was throwing away, but maybe, typically for Eric, he exited stage right, maybe just about right. He knew not too play on too long, over stay his welcome. Tarnish the memories. I'll always remember one of his last goals for us at Everton, I was first row of the upper tier, and as usual greeted it with some pathetic adulation imitation of bowing to him. To this day - probably in a nutty, can you see those blokes looking at us approach - I thought he looked up, and saw me. I realise all this sounds very homoerotic, and I suppose some of it was. We all wanted him to let on, thought he was letting on, that he was just yours and mine. We owned a part of him. And he didn't seem to mind. We now know that probably to preserve his sanity of meeting hundreds of middle aged men for the rest of his and their lives, whose self confidence goes as they stutter their way through an introduction and go misty eyed, that he distanced himself from the very stage that he was born to revel in. Not for him and never would be an MUTV sofa planting platitudes on set the way of ‘former legends’ who never actually were. Acting, he looked hammy, I don't think he was the next De Niro, but we didn't care - ‘doesn't Eric do that well’ we said, as some even bought the DVDs. He'd have cleaned bogs with grace. And we'd have turned up to watch him. There was madness around his methods.


    We put him on a pedestal and he didn't let us down. We've seen more skillful players since, we've had longer cherished heroes - Scholes - and we’ve had greater players (Ronaldo) but none have done it quite like Eric and touched us in the same way. But like King Denis, there was only one King Eric. And if we were to be blessed with Three Kings then I can live a little bit more again. Until then, whenever a nut puts you down by saying ‘why are you still singing about Cantona?’, you don't need to answer. Sunderland, that look, of saying ‘fuck you, I am not taking this’ to a copper in Turkey. We rubbed off on him and he rubbed off on us. It was magic, it lasted not long enough but longer than we thought. It was romance, not just football, and dare I say it was art without sounding too much like a twat. He could pick up the ball and run with it, he could cross, score, shoot, head and do things with great grace. He could lift a side and demoralise a rival, he could cause us sweated head aches with his mists, but we'd defend them no matter.


    He'd have hardened Salfordians wanting to kiss him and have throngs swear allegiance to the French that until that point they'd always loathed. Then they even sang along to the La Marseillaise. We needed a catalyst. We got one. And then some. It was, still, the best era of an incredible one under Fergie. It was perhaps understandable that the team he developed went onto to win the European Cup on the stage some doubted him at, but they were at their mature best and he'd played with them when they were still learning, and many still say the key to their education was watching Eric and what he did; not just on the training pitch but lifting players around him.


    Peter Schmeichel recently said: “Eric became such a success instantly because he was so different. Something happened to the dressing room when he walked through the door. It was that kind of difference we needed. He offered something that we'd never seen before; in personality, in the way he went about his daily training, the way he conducted himself and what he did on the football pitch.”


    After Selhurst Park, with hindsight the club should have done nothing, let the FA make their move (and he'd have probably got less overall), but remember the ABUs and press which still packed a punch back then made out as if someone had died. I remember appearing on the BBC World Service and thinking they were talking as if they wanted to hang him, this the headline over real wars and shit. There were precedents in football, and we pointed them out but they got ignored. The ‘send him back to France’ headlines were entirely inevitable and predictable with their xenophobic undertones and the salt and pepper sprinkling that this was Manchester United too. They didn't like Eric, and this was their chance to go for him, and as it was United it was a perfect combination.


    A RN contributor to this day when he sees ex FA Chief David Davies (only at big games, mind) berates him: ‘Why did you as a Red help ban Cantona for so long?’, to which he does one quicker than Ronnie down the wing. That Eric was to pick up all those personal awards upon his return from the ban from those who had tried to bury him says so much. As does a 9 month ban for kicking an abusive fan when Suarez and Terry combined got 12 matches!


    But fuck them. Our hard bastards are not necessarily bastards. Our heroes stand the test of time, the gloss doesn't run, the stardust doesn't disintegrate. That stardust is falling off modern players like dandruff and though we cheer them we no longer hero worship them, Eric the last of his kind. The only stain could be the charges he and his team made for the Munich memorial match which wrongly became more about his return than the cause, and of course his flirtations ever since with United's marketing operation when they were the ones he blamed at the time for his departure, when probably he just wanted out, knew his time was over, but wanted to do it in an Eric, elusive manner. You look at pictures ever since and the transformation in his weight suggests it was the right time to go, the toll on his body something we ignored at the time. It looks now - commercial geed from the club - like a convenient excuse soaked in larger truths.


    His return from the ban against Liverpool was like a Christmas carnival and he didn't disappoint. We'd been heartbroken with rumours he'd had enough, and the crucial point about Fergie's race to Paris to meet him was that Fergie’s support as it usually was and is, was unwavering once again. Going the extra mile, in all ways.


    There remain the question marks about his performances in Europe. But it was a young team, hampered by squad regulations, as they were just learning how to approach foreign competition. Yes, of course I'd prefer it if he had scored against Dortmund, and doing enough per se in Europe is way below what we usually came to expect, but there were mitigating circumstances. But something in his body language after Dortmund said he perhaps knew that was his last significant moment for the highest prize. He would find a way to leave. But there was nowhere else to go. He'd been happy, he'd been settled, he'd found his moment. No point trying to recreate it elsewhere. He couldn’t have. We crowned him. He was our King. Those Reds of a certain age still get hairy - if now grey - goosebumps when they remember what it was all like. He tried to get away from football, his past, by acting, heading to New York, but you never escape United. He says he won't talk football, but does talk United. He knows.


    His chest out, cock sure ‘you are all beneath me’ both encompassed that United confidence-cum-arrogance and then raised it. He took us on a journey. Already in a mad place, his barmy time made perfect sense. Whether he’d survive now does not matter, he was a man for his time, it was his era, made for him and us; his stage, ours. I always say I wouldn't change it for the world. Part of me just wants to re-live it again. We can't. It was special, unique, because he was. He was made for us and us for him. We got him. History begs for those kind of repeats in the future. They’re rare. Even the sardines and trawlers comments made sense to me!


    We'll have our best memory; we have so many to choose from. And not just simplified by a goal, he provided much more than game highlights alone. He was more of a player. I'll have to stop now, seriously, this wankfest could go on forever, and whilst in the here and now his presence and our memories seem dimmed, remember them like now for this and it comes flooding backing. Suffice to say… we'd still have his babies.


    There is a propensity in modern times to not look back, as so much happens in the here and now, but sometimes our greats are so great that it is worth every once in a while turning up the collar, and basking in the Eric inspired past. To remember or if too young for his actual time (trust me, it was that mental) then to learn. Both will provide the hairs on back of neck moments.
    The RN cover for Fergie’s 25 years said ‘he changed our lives’, and for a few grand years Eric was our lives and we’d have done anything for him as he pretty mich repaid the compliment. It ended on a high. This was the beauty of Eric. Not the delivering part. Not the actual elegance and beauty of what he did, and the revelling in the darker canvas.


    Unlike it being a problem if it were a girl we all circled, we had fun, we all wanted him to have our babies and we remain the best of friends. We all have a different take. We all have a different moment or special memory. We were all touched by his madness of genius that was unlike any since, if not before. There may be others, but there will never be another Cantona. The man for our moment.
    Our Eric.


    Framed Manchester United Shirt - Signed by Eric Cantona


    <iframe src="http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?t=httpmanunblog-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00755BDFE&ref=tf_til&fc1=0 00000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000 000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0"></iframe>


    or a 1996 Cup Final shirt signed by Eric Cantona


    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B...tpmanunblog-21


    this article first appeared in Red News 195


    A print or digital subscription http://www.rednews.co.uk/subscription.php


    http://www.rednews.co.uk/current-issue.php


    The Red News app on itunes - at http://bit.ly/RedNewsApp


    The Red News Kindle store http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barney/e/B009N4YJ0Q/


    Eric Cantona King shirt on white - http://www.rednews.co.uk/shop/items.php?itemid=59
    Eric Cantona King shirt on black http://www.rednews.co.uk/shop/items.php?itemid=54
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