‘We thought Cantona would get it for kung-fu kick – but Fergie ripped into us’

Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons drew a peculiar response from Manchester United icon Sir Alex Ferguson.

And former team-mate Lee Sharpe – who started that day at Selhurst Park – has revealed exactly how the Old Trafford legend reacted to one of the greatest controversies in Premier League history. French dynamo Cantona infamously studded his heckler in the chest after being sent off in south London, but the gaffer's reaction wasn't what many might expect.

"So we come in, manager's smashing the door, jacket's off, shirt sleeves are up," said Sharpe during a recent appearance on Under the Cosh. "Medical bench in the middle of the room [with] balls to be signed, pots of tea and coffee, plates of sandwiches – that's f***ing turned over [makes a table-flipping motion]. F***ing food and plates of tea [in the air], we're getting scalded.

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"Lads are nudging each other like, 'Watch this, Cantona's gonna have it'. And he starts, 'F***ing [Gary] Pallister, you can't f***ing head it, you can't f***ing tackle! [Roy] Keane, you've not laid a glove on f***ing anybody! Sharpey, you can't f***ing run, my grandmother's quicker than you" F***ing [Andrew] Coley, you can't trap a bag of cement!"

If that was the telling off dished out to others in the squad who hadn't assaulted someone in the stands, it's natural to think Cantona was in store for a different standard of scolding altogether. But that wasn't the case as the forward somehow evaded the hairdryer treatment.

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"F***ing history of this club, travelling fans, performance like that," the Scot continued. "You're all in nine o'clock tomorrow running your f***ing balls off! And Eric. . .you can't go around doing things like that, son."

Against the odds, United took the lead at Selhurst Park that day before settling for a 1-1 draw. David May's first goal for the Red Devils put them ahead not long after Cantona's calamity saw United reduced to 10 men, only for future England manager Gareth Southgate to equalise with 10 minutes remaining.

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Former defender May has given a very similar account of those dressing-room events and previously told BBC Radio 5 Live of his incredulous reaction to Cantona's escape. 'Fergie' was famous for dressing down players in plain view, and yet here a player had got away without one despite committing a crime that resulted in 120 hours of community service.

Eagles fan Simmons, meanwhile, visited court himself and was fined £500 after being found guilty of abusive behaviour. He was also banned from Selhurst Park for one year after running down 11 rows of stairs to sling criticism at Cantona following his dismissal.

The Football Association didn't go as easy on Cantona and banned him for eight months, as well as serving the star a £30,000 fine. After much deliberation over whether he would continue playing in England, the character came back to win two more Premier League titles and an FA Cup at Old Trafford, with Ferguson playing a pivotal role in prolonging his stay at United.

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