There are not many football fans alive that aren’t in some capacity aware of Eric Cantona’s famous Kung-Fu kick. But why did the Frenchman feel the need to bust out such high-level martial artistry, and what happened to the man on the receiving end?
Selhurst Park, 1995 – Manchester United visit Crystal Palace in a match that would become infamous for all the wrong reasons.
Heavy fouls had gone unpunished upon Cantona and his teammate, Andy Cole, leading United players, in particular, Cantona to become frustrated. The Frenchman received his marching orders in the 47th minute of the game for kicking out at a Palace player.
He began to make his way to the dressing rooms after an initial lingering, but as he made his way past a section of Crystal Palace supporters he heard something that he didn’t like.
But WHAT was said that enraged such a high-level professional to the point of violence? And WHO was the man responsible for bringing upon himself that famous assault?
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The man on the end of Cantona’s boot was Matthew Simmons.
The Palace supporter, along with Cantona, was asked to attend court to discuss the matter of the assault that day. During proceedings, Simmons claimed that the words he dealt to Cantona to warrant such a reaction were “Off! Off! Off! It’s an early bath for you, Mr. Cantona!”
The Frenchman himself, however, claimed that Simmons cried instead “F*** off back to France, you French b******”.
Cantona also claimed that Simmons had referred to him as a “French animal” and his Mother a “French whore”
It is not hard, having heard Cantona’s version of phrasing, how he could have been enticed into reacting so violently. The United midfielder also managed to land a swift right hook after delivering his initial flying kick to Simmons.
The match ended 1-1 but made headlines following the buzz of excitement building around the unprecedented incident.
So, we now know who said/did what – so what were the punishments? This is where things start to get even more interesting…
The Manchester United legend was in court issued a two-week jail sentence for his attack on Matthew Simmons. Upon appeal, this was reduced to 150 hours of community service.
Despite narrowly missing serving jail time, Cantona didn’t seem overly sorry for his actions that day. He said years later of the incident “I did the kung-fu kick on the hooligan because these kind of people shouldn’t be at games. It’s a dream for some to kick these kind of people”
Matthew Simmons’s verdict was a little more interesting than Cantona’s.
The court issued a £500 fine to Simmons for abusive behaviour and he received a year-long stadium ban. He did not, however, receive any jail time for the incident as Cantona did.
That was until the 21-year-old leaped over the bench upon hearing his verdict and attacked prosecutor, Jeffrey McCann. This was the 55-year-old’s final case and he was visibly shaken up by Simmons’s attack.
His violent outburst in the courtroom earned Simmons a further £500 fine on top of his original verdict, as well as £200 in legal fees AND a week in jail.
All in all, he should have walked away with the original £500 fine, one might think.
Other notable mentions?
The list of players who have attacked fans is, rather unsurprisingly, quite a small one. Aside from Craig Bellamy shoving a Man United fan in a 2009 Manchester derby, or Brian Clough cuffing a pitch invader whilst managing Forest, the list is rather short.
Here they are all the same…
Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring
Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring was an Aston Villa player in the 1930’s. His entry to this list is for allegedly wading into the crowd and punching an opposition supporter in the face. ‘Pongo’ had been fetching an out-of-bounds ball when we heard the fan insult him, causing him to take action.
Gerry Armstrong was a Brighton player, who in 1988 was charged for headbutting an opposition fan following his first career red card. The incident occurred during a Sussex Cup tie and left the spectator requiring 6 stitches to his head. Armstrong left the club two weeks later.
David Ward is the last entry on our honourable mentions list. He was a player for Fisher Athletic who were playing a match against Wealdstone when he earned his entry.
Ward earned himself a two-week ban for running the width of the pitch to punch a supporter who he claimed had been barracking him the whole game.
Other than the above, we could find no other examples of a professional player attacking a fan!
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