I have often wondered if I am the only person who witnessed both of the two most spectacular match-day assaults ever perpetrated by Manchester United players on spectators, explosively sudden moments of violence which occured with a 35 year interval between them and which had markedly different impacts on the players concerned, and on the club. The term is over-used, but in both cases true United Legends were involved, heroes to me then – and now – and the memories of these dramatic occurrences remain as vivid today as when they happened.
Here I want to concentrate on the earlier event, because it’s long ago and largely forgotten, but also because in telling the tale in some detail it’s possible to give a picture of what it was like to be a United fan around half a century ago. Some will have no interest in such things, but for me supporting United is inseparable from understanding the club’s complex history, which can include uncomfortable truths about those we revere. I wish when I began supporting the Red Devils I’d had access to detailed memories of fans from 50 years previously, which would have meant from before World War One, so I hope the younger readers among you will find something here to forge a deeper link to United’s past, and for older folks maybe there’s a memory or two to share.
There are no prizes for guessing that the more recent incident involved Eric Cantona’s astonishing kung-fu kick at Crystal Palace in January 1995, when I had a perfect view from the Selhurst Park stand of how he felled his antagonist with one rather elegant studs-up leap.Eventually there was some sort of ban on showing the TV pictures of that martial arts moment, apparently for fear of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, but initially the clip was re-played on TV so many times it felt like we’d all been kicked into submission on the point that this was absolutely unprecedented and the worst such crime by a player in football history.
I disputed that view at the time, as I will come to in due course, but first I want to explore what happened one mild Spring afternoon in Luton on Saturday 9th April 1960, which indeed shows that Eric was not the first to fell a fan…
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