He karate-kicked him

Man Utd’s Eric Cantona flying through the air towards an abusive Crystal Palace fan
Photo: PA Images/Alamy

On 25th January of 1995, four minutes into the second half of Manchester United’s game against Crystal Palace, United’s famously hot-headed striker, Eric Cantona, was sent off after lashing out at an opposition player. Seconds later, as he was leaving the field, Cantona launched himself over the pitch-side barrier, with both feet aimed towards the chest of a Palace fan who had suggested that Cantona return to France. Punches followed, countless jaws dropped, and the “kung-fu kick” made headlines around the world. Cantona was eventually banned from playing in the Premier League for nine months, given 120 hours of community service, and fined £20,000.

One person who was unaware of the details on that fateful day was Manchester United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. This entry is from his diary the next day.

The Diary Entry

Thursday 26 January

I got home about 1am this morning. Jason [AF’s son] and Tanya [AF’s daughter-in-law] were up with my grandson, Jake, waiting for me. When I first went in they said: 

“Do you want to watch it?”

I said no.

“You’ll not believe it,” Jason said. “He karate-kicked the guy.”

“Karate-kicked him? Are you sure?”

“I’m telling you. He karate-kicked him.”

Having Jake there took my mind off it for a bit. Then he fell asleep and we all went to bed about 2am. I couldn’t sleep, I just lay there wondering what he had done. At 5.25am I got up and put the video on. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Today was a nightmare. I am gutted, devastated; the players were devastated; everybody connected to the club was devastated. It was just a case of getting through the day. There were hoards of press hanging round and we had to shut the gates at The Cliff [training ground] to keep people out. The phone didn’t stop ringing. Eric came in. Maurice Watkins [the club’s lawyer] came in to see him. Brian McClair fixed up a meeting for Eric with the PFA and Brendan Batson came in with the PFA lawyer. There was endless coming and going and the air was filled with an overriding sense of doom.

Further Reading

Sir Alex Ferguson’s diary of the 1994-1995 season was later published as A Year in the Life: The Manager’s Diary, edited by Peter Ball. You can also catch a few glimpses of his handwritten diaries throughout Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In, a 2021 documentary about his life and career that also covers his brain haemorrhage in 2018.

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