The ties that bind the devoted and their idol

Richard Kurt explains why some fans stand by their man
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The Independent Online
The Cantona affair Buried in the Sun's faxline column the day after the Selhurst Cantona Catastrophe was this glimpse into the secret heart of the Red hard-core: "Leave Eric alone. The supporter deserved it for wearing appalling clothes; Cantona should have hit him harder." Sarah from Hertfordshire, despite your sex and location, you are indeed one of us.

We, of course, are the thousands of Old Trafford zealots, the home-and-away brigade to whom Eric is known as "Dieu". Some of us are old enough to remember when Bruce Lee impressions and worse were a predictable feature of every afternoon on the terrace.

We were the shameless proles bellowing "Oo-ah, Cantona" for a solid 10 minutes following the Frenchman's supposedly disgraceful exit on Wednesday. We are not, however, the alleged United fans whom the media hauled out of the Megastore on Thursday to parrot routine condemnations of the Blessed One. n Nor are we much loved by Manchester United plc, or by anyone else for that matter. We are the Old Trafford underclass: no one likes us and we don't care, as Millwall say.

What we do like, however, is simple enough - thrills, passion and fight. All three values are encapsulated in and personified by the talismanic being of Eric Cantona. And if the rest of the world is allowed to continue worshipping their God, despite His two-footed challenges of earthquake, pestilence and famine, than we too can still smother Eric in adulation, forgiving his own temporary bouts of madness that hurt us all.

I must have spoken to nearly a hundred "true Reds" over the past 48 hours; to a man, they stand squarely behind their King. Their sole desire is to see him back in the red shirt - all other considerations are secondary. n To us, he is like the elder brother we look up to who's got into a "spot of bother with the law". however much we disapprove of the offence, he is family and as such receives the automatic support that blood-ties engender.

Yes, we accept the essential indefensibility of his actions, but we will enter every possible plea of mitigation we can think of on his behalf to every debate, hearing or court to come; the defence campaigns have already begun. n Some outsiders appear tofind our refusal to cut Cantona adrift astonishing or even disgusting, but then how can an outsider comprehend the ties that bind the devoted and their idol? Remember that the greatest losers in this affair are the match-going United fans.

Our season is virtually destroyed, our idol's career is ruined, and our dreams of the European Holy Grail vanished. Yet we still love him. Woe betide any who would seek to divorce the lovers from the loved; 10,000 enraged Reds waving broken bottles outside your front door is not a prospect to be welcomed, I would have thought.

Above all, spare us the sanctimonious waffle spouted by the monstrous legion of ex-pros and distant experts. Eric has not traumatised millions of children, or brought the game to the brink of the precipice.

Football needs the Cantonas as much as the Linekers - the Establishment might not admit it, but this is an entertainment industry that thrives as much on controversy and bad deeds as it does on good play and clean living. Brawls, bugs, drugs, and karate - we love 'em all. You can save your family values for the tennis club and the PC Nineties.

Richard Kurt is a contributor to Red Issue, a Manchester United fanzine, and the author of United We Stood.

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