Manchester United legend Eric Cantona only has one regret about the infamous ‘kung fu’ incident on 25 January 1995 when he leapt into the stands at Selhurst Park to kick an abusive Crystal Palace fan – he wishes he had kicked him ‘even harder’.
The flashpoint came as Cantona was being shown a red card after finally losing his temper with the close attention of Palace defender Richard Shaw and lashing out at his marker. Palace fan Matthew Simmonds had then run down 11 rows to front of the stand to hurl obscenities at Cantona.
The Frenchman, who had been the catalyst for United winning back-to-back Premier League titles in 1992/93 and 1993/94 and on course for a third, jumped over the hoardings at Simmonds, connecting with a high kick, as well as landing some punches.
Cantona was immediately suspended by United for the rest of the season, despite the harm it would do to their hopes of winning a third straight title and second consecutive domestic double. The FA later increased the ban until the end of the following September, while he was even handed an initial two-week prison sentence that was later reduced to community service.
United lost both the Premier League title and the FA Cup final in 1995 and Cantona eventually returned to a very different United side in October 1995, with several more established players sold in his absence and replaced by a young group of home-grown stars. But he once more proved to be the catalyst for a fresh wave of success, with both his own quality and serving as a leader.
Looking back on the incident decades years later in The United Way, releaed in May 2021, Cantona said the FA wanted to make an example of him. Despite the impact on his career, having also been stripped of the France captaincy and never representing his country again, he doesn’t regret that it happened, only that he wished he had made harder contact.
“I have been insulted thousands of times and have never reacted, but sometimes you are fragile. I have one regret. I would have loved to have kicked him even harder. I was banned for nine months. They wanted me to be an example,” the Old Trafford cult hero explained.
Cantona also spoke fondly of Sir Alex Ferguson, who stuck by him after the incident, and revealed that the Scot was a father figure who he ‘loved’ and ‘respected’.
“The manager found the right words like always. And I loved him and respected him. Like a father. When a manager does something like this to his player, the player will give his life to the manager, to the club and to the fans,” the cult hero added.
Previously speaking in 2011, Cantona had told the BBC that it was a ‘great feeling’ to put the ‘hooligan’ in his place. However, despite it being one of the top memories from an illustrious career, he also said he considered it to be a ‘mistake’, which is still compatible with his no regrets stance.
The United Way is available to watch on Sky Documentaries on NOW and is also available on Blu-ray, DVD and download-to-own.