Eric Cantona

Former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona already had a reputation as a hothead with a dodgy temperament before his arrival at Old Trafford from Leeds United in November, 1992. However, it was nearly two years later, in January, 1995, when Cantona was involved in the most shocking episode of his football career.

During a Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, in South London, Cantona was subjected to robust, but fair – at least, in the eyes of the referee – tackling, particularly centre half Richard Shaw, who had been assigned to closely man-mark the Frenchman by Palace manager Alan Smith. Early in the second half, following the latest in a series of comings together between the pair, Cantona vented his frustration by petulantly kicking out at Shaw.

Cantona duly received the fourth red card of his Manchester United career, but the incident was far from over. As he was making his way from the playing surface, Cantona was confronted by Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who made his way down a gangway to launch a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse in his direction. On hearing his mother called a ‘French whore’, Cantona retaliated by launching what is known, in kung-fu circles, as a straight thrust kick, which carried him over the crowd barrier to strike Simmons in the abdomen with the sole of his boot.

Manchester United fined Cantona £20,000 and suspended him for four months, thereby ruling him out for the remainder of the 1994/95 Premier League season. The Football Association subsequently fined him a further £10,000 and extended the ban to nine months, until the end of September, 1995. Cantona also faced criminal charges for common assault, to which he plead guilty, at East Croydon Magistrates’ Court in March, 1995. He was initially sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment, although this was reduced to 120 hours of community service at an appeal hearing at Croydon Crown Court the following week.

Family Business

Celebrated National Hunt jockey Sir Anthony McCoy rode 4,348 winners over jumps during his career. Family Business, who won the Feast of St. Raymond Novices’ Chase at Southwell on Wednesday, January 23, 2002, was by no means the most important, by certainly the most extraordinary. Seven runners lined up for the extended three-mile contest, worth £4,824 to the winner, but that number was quickly reduced to six when Oh No Whiskey, one of three 66/1 outsiders, fell at the first fence. Another, Star Control, followed suit at the third fence and, with a circuit to travel, Family Business, the odds-on favourite, jumped badly left and unseated McCoy.

After hurling his riding helmet to the ground in disgust, McCoy boarded a Land Rover and headed back to the weighing room, but the drama was far from over. Two fences later, second favourite Eaux Les Couers fell, when in the lead, and third favourite Joe Luke blundered and unseated rider, temporarily reducing the field to two still standing. Eaux Les Couers was remounted, though, and continued, albeit some way behind the other pair.

The new leader, What A Wonder, proceeded to unseat his rider at the very next fence, although he, too, was quickly caught and remounted. Indeed, the 7-year-old was still in a clear lead when making a mistake and unseating rider for a second time at the fourth-last fence. Remarkably, the last of the outsiders, Red Radish, and the aforementioned Eaux Les Couers both refused and unseated rider at the same obstacle, leaving no more horses in the race.

Meanwhile, as chaos reigned elsewhere, McCoy was informed that Family Business had been caught. He remounted, returned to what had been the tenth fence, jumped it successfully at the second attempt and completed the rest of the course, unscathed, to win the race.

Kash Ali

If you said ‘Kash Ali’ to people, I imagine they’d possibly think you were advertising a payday loans service, or looking for a notorious side street. Far from it though, because Kash ‘Gnasher’ Ali is a force to be reckoned with. For many the introduction to this enigmatic figure will have been on 20th March 2019 when he took on David Price in a heavyweight boxing contest held in the Echo Arena, Liverpool. Price’s assumed ascent to boxing greatness had been derailed in recent years and so who was this latest opponent I wondered. Who was Kash Ali?

This fight was certainly a massive step up for Ali and as such he was a relative unknown. Had anyone heard of him I wondered? Well certainly those who tuned into the fight press conference, where a usually calm David Price was uncharacteristically rattled and profane.  He clearly thought Kash Ali was all mouth and no trousers. Ali’s relative anonymity in boxing terms quickly became irrelevant though, as following on from his lively ring entrance the fight began.

It soon became clear that Kash’s 15-0 undefeated record didn’t directly correlate in any way to how long he’d been studying the sweet science. His style was a bit wayward and lunging, less ancient ‘Drunken Master’ and more ‘a couple more Jagerbombs, please mate’. Price was gradually starting to pick him off, bloodying the fighter’s nose in round three, and getting some more verbal back from Ali for his troubles. Kash Ali seemed to be running out of both ideas and steam against his seasoned opponent but then in round 5, he suddenly upped his game. Was it a second wind? Perhaps divine intervention? Ali was suddenly connecting with a couple of good punches here and there and Price looked rattled. Ali was retiring though. Could he muster up another salvo? Did he have any further tricks up his sleeve?

The answer to that sound became abundantly clear towards the end of the round, when after a combination of exhaustion and a pinpoint punch from Price, Kash Ali tumbled to the floor and in an interesting take on multi tasking also, right up there in ‘I didn’t see that one coming’ territory, decided to attempt to bite a chunk out of David Price’s side. The reaction of Price and his team was instant (and it later emerged that Ali also had a neck nibble in round two!). The referrer swiftly called off the bout and the mark on the Liverpool fighter’s body was clear to see – and this was ‘with’ Ali wearing a gumshield! His exit was swift, and he was jeered by the crowd as he left the arena.

Following the fight, there was understandable outrage at what had happened and talk of taking his entire purse for the fight. A body blow (but at least not a bite) for a fighter who had just had his chance at hitting the big time. Ali blamed his street mentality  and apologised for the whole sorry episode. For the rights and wrongs of it all though, we won’t be forgetting Kash Ali in a hurry. When his suspension is lifted on 26/09/2019, I for one will be tuning into his next fight to see what happens. Because it really is anyone’s guess!

 

Andrés Escobar

Andrés Escobar, nicknamed El Caballero del Futbol, or ‘The Gentleman of Football’, was the captain of the Colombian national team that many observers, including Pele, expected to reach the latter stages of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, hosted by the United States. However, in just the second match of the tournament, Escobar, a centre half, inadvertently deflected a cross by USA midfielder John Harkes into his own net; his own goal contributed to a 2-1 defeat by the host nation and, ultimately, to the elimination of Colombia from the World Cup at the group stage.

The failure of a much-fancied team – which had conceded just two goals in qualifying and beaten Argentina 5-0, in Buenos Aires, in its final qualifying match – inevitably provoked a backlash in Colombia. Nevertheless, rather than lying low on his return to his native country, Escobar preferred to engage with his countrymen. In the Colombian national daily newspaper ‘El Tiempe’ he wrote, prophetically, ‘Life doesn’t end here. We have to go on.’

Tragically, though, just five days after playing his final game at the World Cup, Escobar was dead, shot in the back six times while sitting in his car outside the El Indio Bar

in his home town of Medellín in the early hours of July 2, 1994. It was later reported that his killer shouted ‘Gol!’ or ‘Goal!’ as each shot was fired, leading to speculation that the cold-blooded murder of the Colombian captain was an act of revenge by disgruntled gamblers, who had lost heavily betting on the World Cup.

However, at a time when Medellín was in a state of emergency following the murder of drug kingpin Pedro Escobar, Andrés Escobar may have made the mistake of trading insults with known drug traffickers the Gallón brothers, Santiago and Pedro David. Certainly, Humberto Castro Muñoz, a bodyguard to the Gallón brothers, confessed to, and was convicted for, the murder in 1995. Nevertheless, various sources, including

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, a convicted enforcer for Pablo Escobar, and Francisco Maturana, former manager of the Columbian national team, have suggested that the murder had little or nothing to do with betting or the World Cup.