The man everyone is talking about

Adam Szreter found one topic of conversation at Highfield Road
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The Independent Online
Whenever someone has brought football into disrepute this season, something has usually cropped up and taken over the headlines within the week.

Alas for poor Eric, it is hard to imagine that happening this time, but for 90 minutes on Saturday, the fourth round of the FA Cup was nearly all that mattered.

At Highfield Road, where Coventry and Norwich played out a goalless but rousing tie, the two sets of supporters would hardly have cared less had Bobby Charlton descended from the stands and announced that the referee in the 1966 World Cup final had been bribed. The only issue at stake was a place in the next round.

"He's not French is he?" one man said after Leigh Jenkinson, Coventry's talented new left-footer, clattered into the back of a Norwich defender.

"You wouldn't have given it, would you linesman?" another shouted, referring to Cantona's ill-fated foul on Richard Shaw of Crystal Palace. "Give it? He wouldn't have seen it, let alone give it," came the reply.

Half-time arrived soon after the Norwich goalkeeper, himself a stand-in for the injured Bryan Gunn, was carried off and replaced by the young Andy Marshall. His first touch was to tip over a teasing Jenkinson corner, and thereafter he covered himself in cup glory.

Cantona's midweek attempt at kung fu was by now almost irrelevant. I considered asking a timid-looking woman just along from me if she was perhaps a little frightened of sitting so close to the front, in view of what had happened at Selhurst Park.

But as a question, it seemed hardly more appropriate than "Do you come here often?" as Cantona is unlikely to set off a trend of players flying feet-first through the air towards spectactors.

One fan said: "I'm still in shock really, I mean you just don't do that, do you? There must be something wrong with him, but I have noticed that every time he gets some criticism, like on Match Of The Day, the following week he's nearly sent off. They can't chuck him out, but what else can they do?"

Gary is an auditor for Tower Hamlets Borough Council, but he evidently had another life. When I asked him if he'd be sorry to see Cantona leaving English football, he said: "I'd like to see him play in the Czech Republic. I go there quite a bit and I've seen a few games.

"He's always saying he'd like to go to Prague, and he'd go down really well there. The language is more difficult too, so he wouldn't understand so much of what the fans were saying to him."

Back at my seat, I asked the two in front of me what they thought. Shaun and David turned out to be carrot-growers from just outside Norwich. "Should be banned for life," said Shaun. "He's a great player, but he's got a screw loose somewhere."

The second half got under way, and within 10 minutes Cantona was old news. This was the Cup, after all. Chances began to arise at both ends with increasing frequency, and neither side looked particularly interested in a third meeting, having played each other in the League at Carrow Road last Wednesday.

Twenty minutes from time, Coventry's American striker, Roy Wegerle, came on as a substitute, and within seconds the home supporters were singing, to the now-infamous tune of "Ooh-Aah Cantona"; "Who needs Can-ton-a when we've got We-ger-le."

To which a Norwich fan immediately responded: "Who needs Cantona when we've got Herbie Hide." And if you know that Hide is a heavyweight boxer from Norwich, then you'll understand the joke.

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