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.