Eric Cantona, previously famous mostly for football and sardines, yesterday helped to spawn a giant red herring.
In an interview in October Cantona called for "millions" of people to withdraw their money from banks, to "bring down the system". The idea developed into an international buzz on the internet calling for a "bloodless revolution" on 7 December.
And so the day came. What happened? Not very much.
Cantona, now a successful film actor, had forewarned a bank in a small town in northern France that he intended to withdraw "a sum greater than €1,500" yesterday. Photographers and film crews surrounded the bank all day. Cantona was filming nearby – a movie about bank robbers – but did not turn up to claim his money.
Earlier, a group of costumed French political activists, one of them dressed up as Eric Cantona and the rest as cartoon bank robbers, withdrew a few hundred euros from a bank in Paris.
Another internet buzz pointed out that Cantona's wife, the actress Rachida Brakni, had often appeared in advertisements on French TV to promote the bank LCL (Le Crédit Lyonnais). A satirical site in France has created a spoof version of the ad in which Brakni is shown asking to withdraw "all the money I made from advertising Crédit Lyonnais".
Otherwise, despite 34,000 promises given to sites promoting a "bloodless revolution", banks across Europe said there had been no noticeable increase in cash withdrawals or account closures.
Didier Barello, head of LCL branches in Marseille, Cantona's home town, said: "We have had no advance requests from clients for large sums of cash. We were expecting them but we haven't received a single one." There were similar reports from other French cities and other European countries.
Géraldine Feuillien, the Belgian scriptwriter who started the Cantona-inspired internet appeal for mass bank withdrawals, said that she had received scores of messages from people who said that they had reclaimed their cash. She said that one message came from a "bank employee who withdrew his money (on Monday) and was immediately fired".
The buzz began with off-the-cuff remarks which Cantona made to the provincial French newspaper, Presse Océan on 7 October. In the interview, Cantona said: "If you want to talk about revolution, there is no point in taking up arms and killing people. There is something very simple that we can do. The system is based on the power of the banks. If 20,000,000 people withdraw their money, the system collapses, no need for weapons, or blood or anything." The interview created a minor sensation on the internet, leading to calls for a "Cantona day".
The former Manchester United striker has long been known for his enigmatic pronouncements. His most celebrated was in 1995, after he was banned from football for several months for drop-kicking an abusive fan, when he told journalists: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown in to the sea."
Since retiring from football in 1997, Cantona has – despite initial mockery – become a successful film actor. In recent months, he has made a series of political statements, which have been assembled and translated by the Manchester United fanzine Red Issue.
"Being French, to me, is first and foremost being a revolutionary," he said in one interview. "I am from an immigrant family, which is something I never forget, of working-class Sardinians and Catalonians, and of political refugees... My ancestors were fighters, something I have inherited. For me revolution still remains pertinent."
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