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FA to take `swift action' : FOOTBALL

The Football Association last night promised rapid action against Eric Cantona. A statement said: "The FA are appalled by the incident that took place by the side of the pitch at Selhurst Park.

"Such an incident brings shame on those involved as well as, more importantly, on the game itself. The FA is aware that the police are urgently considering what action they should take. We will as always co-operate in every way with them.

"And as far as the FA itself is concerned, charges of improper conduct and of bringing the game into disrepute will inevitably and swiftly follow tonight's events. It is our responsibility to ensure that actions that damage the game are punished severely. The FA will live up to that responsibility."

There was general shock and disbelief among supporters of both teams about the scenes they had witnessed at Selhurst Park. Mark Coote, the managing director of a construction company and a Crystal Palace supporter for 30 years, said: "Cantona was sent off and he was walking along the line. This guy came down from behind me and started hurling abuse at him, calling him every name under the sun.

"But Cantona dived in throwing punches after taking a flying kick over the barrier. He really caught the lad with that. He partly landed on the barrier but got up.

"He and the lad were throwing punches at each other until the stewards intervened and split them up. That was when the other players started. The lad looked all shook up. He was very shaken. Cantona definitely had the better of it."

However, as the Manchester United players rushed to stop Cantona, Paul Ince allegedly started screaming at the crowd: "Come on then, we'll take you all."

"The United players were almost inciting the crowd, especially Paul Ince. It was amazing - I have never seen anything like it," Mr Coote claimed.

Roger Bladon and Nigel Ireland, executives of the Croydon Advertiser, agreed it was the worst incident they had seen at a match. "He [Cantona] may have been provoked, but he shouldn't react like that," Mr Ireland said.

Nick Baker, a surveyor and Manchester United fan, who was watching the game with his eight-year-old son, Gary, said: "You can't condone this. This is such a bad example to the kids. Luckily Gary didn't see the incident."

The former England captain, Gary Lineker, speaking on BBC1's Sportsnight, condemned Cantona's behaviour. "It doesn't matter how you are provoked by the crowd, whatever language they use to you, you've got to be above it. I think it's unbelievable and inexcusable."

Many fans leaving the ground agreed it was the most shocking incident they had ever seen at a football match. But there was some sympathy for Cantona, who was generally agreed to have been provoked.