Charterhouse Chronicle by Brendan Walsh SORRY to bore you with personal difficulties. Being left is never very nice, of course. What really hurts, though, is coming across the former object of one's affections laughing and smiling in the front seat of a bright red sports car driven by the smoothie-chops who lives in the smart house next door. Eric Cantona walking out on Leeds in a strop is one thing; but signing for Manchester United...
My guess is Cantona won't stay very long at Old Trafford. He arrived in England ten months ago after a career spent surfing sulking from one French club to another: "le Brat". the Paris press christened him. You can spot the Eric Cantonas in any boardroom or play group, their brows furrowed in concentration, bizarrely protective of some idiosyncratic moral code of their own devising.
He was banned from football for a while for angrily throwing his shirt on the ground during a -friendly", and again for throwing the ball at a referee. He was suspended from the French national side for a year after likening its manager to a bag of, well, something the cautious pedestrian takes care to avoid stepping in. There have been spectacular rows with fellow players, managers and journalists. None of this has left the
slightest scratch on the shiny paintwork of Cantona's selfrighteousness. "So many people agree with others for the sake of it," according to his wife. "Eric can't do that. He has to tell the truth. He's very honest and not afraid to say, 'No, this is wrong,"' Few, as people say when they doubt everything else, doubt Cantona's ability. He has both skill a physical presence you couldn't take your eyes off him, even when he was high-stepping it up and down the touch-line in his substitute's track suit, trying to egg Howard Wilkinson into bringing him on.
Tall and straight-backed as a guards officer, Cantona has the gift the great players have of looking as if he is doing more or less as he likes. He prefers to dawdle than play the obvious pass. When he loses the ball. he looks taken aback, and is little inclined to make an effort to reclaim it. These are matters best left to others.
Cantona is a player who, as they say. "likes to express himself'. In front of goal he is fatally prone to over-elaboration and indulgence. When he does score, though. the image stays in the memory. At Stamford Bridge last April he took the ball round three gawping Chelsea defenders and lodged it in a corner of the net as coolly as if he was putting a bottle of milk in the fridge.
Football followers in Leeds have been reared to be suspicious of glamour, of "star players" and nancy-boy balletics. They despise the arty pretensions of the likes of Manchester United, with their fancy foreign players and housewifes' favourites like Charlton. Best and Law. The household gods of the Leeds management are work-rate, commitment and graft. Former captain, Billy Bremner, called his autobiography. You Get Nowt for Being Second. The prime virtue is hardness: the cardinal sin, softness.
The glory years under Don Revie's leadership were marked by spectacular on-field brawls. regular appointments at FA disciplinary hearings and allegations in the tabloids of attempts to bribe players to "throw" matches. Great days. The Leeds' fans sudden infatuation with the moody, awkward. capricious Cantona was a rather shocking amour fou. He would come on, experiment with a few ineffectual flicks, make a dumb pass, irritably put out a foot to trip up an opponent, show a "society's to blame guy" face to the referee, and shuffle off scowling to the wing. A moment later, picking up a loose ball, he plays it long and apparently aimlessly into empty space, the crowd gathers itself for a groan of frustration, before the penny drops and we all see what he had seen seconds before. a goalscoring chance created out of nothing. "Ooh-aah-Canona" we coo. enraptured.
"Results are all that matter", managers and chairmen are fond of repeating. A win sends the fans home content Contentment, though, only touches the surface of why people go to football matches. Defeat engenders the tears that bind the fan more securely.
The mood inside football grounds is generally sour, grumpy. The humour is stoic, self-mocicing. People aren't there to enjoy themselves. Fans leaving a match have the same "duty discharged"
look of lukewarm churchgoers who have "had Mass".
Match attendance bears some of the marks of churchgoing. Maybe a few are there who couldn't face the inevitable row if they announced to a distraught parent that they no longer want to go. ("I've grown out of it, Dad") Some recall a sudden conversion experience. Football offers both popular devotions for the simple faithful chanting and armwaving at matches, holy pictures to display around the home and the learned scrutiny of tactics and sacred texts for the brahminc and sophisticates.
I'd never quite shaken off an adolescent prejudice that "what football team do you support?" offers as sound a guide to character as half a lifetime in analysis. I would never dream of having my hair cut by a Sheffield Wednesday fan, or of allowing my sister to go out with anyone who had ever even thought about supporting Arsenal. (West Ham, maybe).
No one who knows that the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury are Chelsea and Arsenal fans respectively should be surprised at the sorry state of the nation's affairs.