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Fan attacked by Cantona denies provocation

A football fan yesterday accused the Manchester United player Eric Cantona of launching an unprovoked attack on him during a Premier League match last season.

Matthew Simmons was appearing at Croydon Magistrates' Court where he is charged with two counts of using threatening language and behaviour during the match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park, south London, on 25 January 1995.

Millions of television viewers saw United's French striker aim a kung- fu kick at Mr Simmons, who was standing in the crowd, and then throw a punch at him as he made his way to the tunnel after being sent off.

The court was told by prosecution witnesses that Mr Simmons provoked the assault by hurling a torrent of obscene and abusive language at Cantona.

But Mr Simmons, 21, a double-glazing fitter, of Thornton Heath, south London, denied using language which the prosecution says was designed to bait the player. He said: "After Eric Cantona had been sent off I realised that Richard Shaw [a Crystal Palace player], needed treatment and that this was a pause in the game and would give me the chance to go to the toilet. I was casually walking down the stairs and as I got to the bottom of the aisle Eric Cantona was walking along the line. We simultaneously met and the crowd was fairly noisy and everyone was cheering and noisy and pleased that he had been sent off, me included.

"I was shouting 'Off, off, off', and I was pointing towards the dressing room 'cos that's what you do at football games. At no time was I doing anything else than pointing. I did not use any language of this kind. At no stage did I swear and I am quite certain of that.

"As far as I am concerned I was doing nothing wrong to deserve these actions. I was teasing Cantona but there is a big difference between a criminal offence and what you would call banter at a football match."

The magistrates decided that there was a case to answer on both charges, and the trial was adjourned until today.