Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cantona's most famous kick - 17 years later, the other side of the story

Today marks the 17th anniversary of an incident which all know about, which we all have heard every single story about, which we all have watched and relived a thousand times; it was one of those special moments that shook the Football world. It seems like only yesterday that I was glued to my TV screen as a kid when Eric Cantona got sent off vs Crystal Palace in 1995. The incident following the sending-off became one of the most popular and emblematic images in Football History. It became an iconic piece of Football footage that has been replayed so many times that we can almost all tell every single detail of how the incident occurred…it was the day Cantona kicked the fan. It’s a story that needs no introduction all these years later. But there is one thing that hasn’t been exposed much regarding the now infamous confrontation - the other side of the story. Whatever happened to the man who got kicked all those years ago?

To be fair, he was quite young at the time, so using the term “man” to describe him might be a little unjust, though he could be considered old enough to know what exactly he was doing. Matthew Simmons, a then 20-year old Crystal Palace fan, was the person who shouted the verbal abuse at Cantona on that night in January 1995. Depending on the sources you choose to believe, the abuse was deemed as either racial or quite simply the typical abuse Footballers receive when on the pitch. However, what Simmons didn’t know back then, was that he wasn’t insulting any regular footballer. He was offending Eric Cantona - the most talented, arrogant, influential and mad Frenchman in English Football at the time. As Cantona was being accompanied off the pitch by former kitman Norman Davies following his dismissal, Simmons began his tirade. It barely lasted a couple of seconds and before Simmons knew it, he was on the receiving end of the world’s most famous Kung-Fu kick – a moment which Cantona has since publicly described as his favorite moment during his illustrious Football career. The suspension he received was well publicized: a nine-month ban from the game and community service to be served by the Frenchman – who eventually bounced back from it in a manner that only a great footballer could. His heroic status at Old Trafford became intact, as his comeback following the suspension and all that followed it, endeared him even more to his already adoring fans.

As for Simmons, his side of the story obviously never quite made any headlines. That incident was the start of the breakdown in his personal life which led to numerous disastrous problems he’s endured ever since. During the court case at the time, Simmons insulted the judge who had brought up the subject of his troublesome past. Simmons had already previously been charged for attacking a man with a three-foot spanner in an incident at a petrol station; so his record wasn’t exactly clean prior to the “kick”. With tempers rising in the courtroom, and after being found guilty, Simmons tried attacking the judge and was held back. He ended up spending the night in jail. A series of unfortunate events have followed him ever since.

Following the altercation, Simmons lost his job at the time and struggled to get any sort of decent work for years as nobody would hire him. Family members stopped talking to him and have refused to talk to him ever since. Reporters ran after him to get every piece of the story possible and apparently some still do (he even sold a story to The Sun which he apparently only got paid partially for). Crystal Palace revoked his season ticket and banned him from the stadium. His marriage failed and he got divorced, even though he has custody of his now 14-year old son. He even got charged, but avoided jail, as recently as May last year for attacking the coach of the schoolboy team that his son plays for. Apparently the team’s coach, having realized who Simmons was, dropped his son from the line-up causing a massive brawl on the sidelines (that story has many implications which are too long to detail). 17 years on and still the kick affects Simmons’ life. He still struggles with its effects as he is forever recognized as the person that Cantona kicked. He currently works as a construction worker and now goes to watch Chelsea and Fulham as both arenas are "less violent" according to some interviews he's given elsewhere.

Whether or not all these consequences would have occurred had Simmons not got kicked is a question that should seem easy to answer; but the man already had a history of violence before the “kick”. What is for sure though is that getting on the wrong side of the legendary Frenchman is not something he, or anyone, would or should want to do. Not now, not then. That Kung-fu kick remains an unforgettable moment for many Football fans across the world. But the effect it had on the man who was on the other end of the studs is one that hasn’t gotten much attention. It has probably all been the makings of Simmons' own doing. If only he had stayed quiet for those few seconds, maybe his entire life would have been different and he wouldn't have had to endure these long-lasting effects - but little did he know it at the time, and just like with every other kick Cantona took during his career, the effects have always been everlasting.

1 comment:

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