It is the hooligans who bring football into disrepute, not Cantona : LE TTERS

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From Mr James Darby Sir: Eric Cantona, at a moment of great stress, loses his self-control and assaults a spectator who has been verbally abusing him. Immediately, there is a violently emotional reaction and the cry is raised that Eric Cantona is "bringing the game into disrepute".

This is hypocrisy. In whose perception is the game any more disreputable as a result of this incident? Where are the innocents whose eyes are opened and only now see the game as a disreputable spectacle? The truth is that this incident tends more to confirm the perceptions of many people who love the game of football per se but are wholly contemptuous of its presentation in this country.

It is not professional footballers who generate this contempt. It is the low life who hurl foul-mouthed abuse from the terraces, the much-publicised football hooligans ("small minority" we are often told - minority, maybe, but assuredly a substantial one), the get-rich-quick types of little sporting instinct who control our leading clubs, and the absence of inspirational leadership from the Football Association.

In the incident at Selhurst Park, my sympathies lie largely with Cantona. If I were in the vicinity of a highly charged athlete who was in a state of obvious emotional stress and I were to subject him to vicious, foul-mouthed and gratuitous abuse, I would expect to be thumped. For that reason, along with some others, I would not do it. It is spectators such as those that grace Selhurst Park who confirm the prevailing perceptions of the game of football, not artists such as Eric Cantona. Neither brings the game into disrepute; it is well and truly there already.

Yours faithfully, JAMES A. DARBY Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire