The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 45

September 2, 2010

This one’s from TAG 42, March 1995, though you’ll see in the introduction that it should’ve actually been published in TAG 41 when it would have made more sense, AND preceded Eric Cantona’s famous Kung Fu demonstration

Rambo versus Rimbaud

Eric Cantona? He seems like an interesting sort of bloke. Let’s review his autobiography, shall we?

Eric Cantona My Story Headline Publishing -£15.99
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting This review was written in November 1994. Due to gremlins in the system it wasn’t possible to include it in TAG 41.

When Eric Cantona performed his one-man Tae-Kwon-Do exhibition at Crystal Palace, you, dear reader, probably thought, “Pure magic, this is what we need – more characters in the game.”

I, on the other hand, thought, “Fuck it. That’s another TAG article down the drain.”

This introduction is a pathetic attempt to salvage what Eric so crudely ruined.

So, for the next few minutes please imagine that you’re back in the middle of December, the Christmas presents are under the tree, the turkey hasn’t yet been cooked, Santa Claus is coming to town, and Eric Cantona is still allowed to play football.

Here’s a true story. About fifteen years ago a Greenock man returned to the bosom of his family, having spent a miserable afternoon at Cappielow watching Morton getting stuffed. On the way home he’d stopped off at his local hostelry to consume half a gallon of their finest Lanliq. His mood on arrival at his own hearth was not improved by the racket produced by the TV, the radio and the record player all blaring concurrently in atonal harmony.

He rampaged round the house switching off the sources of the din, while simultaneously offering to place his toe-cap into the rectums of his several offspring. His wife materialised from the kitchen to tell him to leave the weans alone. Words were exchanged. The wife revisited the kitchen returning with a bread-knife. In a fit of drink-induced bravado, which he instantly regretted, and which he continued to regret in the remaining milli-seconds of his life, he ripped open his shirt, exposed his chest and invited her to ‘come on then, come on then, just try it’.

She plunged the blade into his chest with surgical precision, rupturing his aorta, and reducing Morton’s home support by one on a permanent basis.

From her remand prison cell, the wife was able to place a death intimation in the columns of the local paper, which, with admirable understatement, began,

Suddenly, at home, ……….

On the first anniversary of his death, his ever-loving (and still in jail) spouse placed another notice in the ‘In Memoriam‘ column of the same paper, in the form of one of these maudlin and morbid verses appropriate for the occasion. This one read ;

­“I’ll never forget that terrible day

When God came and snatched you away”……………………………..
(You will observe straight away that there was no reference to God carrying a bread-knife.)

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Letter from France

I was reminded of that tale (here comes the tenuous connection, folks) while I was reading ‘My Story‘ by Eric Cantona.

Like the aforementioned death intimations, ‘My Story‘ may not contain any outright lies, but it can hardly be said to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, it turns out to be a curious combination of cliched pulp, historical revisionism, cash-in nonsense and earnest self-justification, all liberally laced with the kind of score-settling which has now become commonplace in footballing autobiographies.

The whole thing is given added spice by a concerted effort to portray Eric as some sort of sensitive, almost poetic individual in the mould of his hero, Rimbaud (pronounced Rambo).

Although Eric is frequently said to be something of a quasi-intellectual, his many accomplishments do not extend as far as being able to write this book himself, and it must therefore be a matter of debate as to just how far it is ‘his‘ story.

Instead it has been ‘interpreted‘ and ‘adapted‘ by George Scanlan, who appears to be something of a polymath, being a retired university Dean and the official club interpreter for both Cantona and Kanchelskis at Man Utd.

Happily for all concerned, Mr Scanlan didn’t suffer from any false modesty when required to ‘interpret’ Eric saying,

George Scanlan is knowledgable about football and observes with a professional eye“.

I’ll just bet he does.

However, despite Mr Scanlan’s impressive academic pedigree, even he cannot resist the mind-numbingly banal (and untrue) cliche like ‘Manchester United is the most famous club in the world‘ or ‘Wembley Stadium is the Temple of Football‘. And just occasionally there seems to have been a breakdown in the Anglo/French translation. How many of you could instantly recognise the person that Eric says is

the one they call the ‘Flying Goalkeeper‘”?

(clue – it’s Gordon Banks).

Or how about Brian Kidd being described as an ‘enfant terrible‘ (the resident resident TAG languages expert advises that this is French for ‘fucking awful‘).

Pretentious – Moi ?
As I’ve already said, efforts are continually made to portray Eric as being some sort of tortured artist, a poet giving of himself for the benefit of the masses. It’s the old ‘genius is pain’ syndrome writ large (the pain generally being located in the neck area). His sensitive soul is repeatedly exposed for our inspection. Of course, he runs the risk that cynical smart-arses like me will simply ridicule his pretentiousness.

Just exactly what are you supposed to make of a description of his father which starts, “Nature intoxicated him” and then continues, “We rose at dawn to hunt the lark, woodcock and thrush”.

Zut alors ! Communing with Mother Nature apparently consists of taking a fucking big shotgun and wiping out a family of small birds. Intoxicating, non?

Not that Eric confines his concern for living creatures to slaughtering flocks of our tiny feathered friends. He also goes a bundle on wiping out larger quadrupeds as viciously and violently as possible. There is a truly remarkable sentence which reads,

There was also my passion for bullfighting, and my hatred of injustice“.

Je ne comprends pas, Eric, mon vieux haricot. There’s obviously a cultural gulf here between Scots and French conceptions of justice. I mean it’s only a fucking bull, but if you cut it, does it not bleed ?

Philosophy. You want philosophy. You got it. Why did France fail to qualify for USA ’94. Tres simple, mon ami. Eric says, “There isn’t any reason. Or perhaps there are a thousand reasons“.

Or perhaps that Moroccan tobacco and those Pink Floyd records do funny things to your head.

Or try this, “An artist, in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room”.

Non, non, non, Eric, it’s an electrician who can do that.

Some of the metaphysics is so obscure that you begin to suspect that old George was at the gin bottle when he was supposed to be ‘interpreting’. Eric/George tells us that there is an old French proverb which says,

“Before time is not the time, nor is it time after the time”.
They’re making this up surely. It reads like part of a Monty Python script. There’s an old Scottish proverb which says,

“Dinnae swallow horse-shit fae France, laddie”.

Piece of Crepe
I said earlier that some of the translation leaves a bit to be desired. The most hideously insensitive example of this is when Duncan Edwards is described as having been ‘mown down in full flight’. I mean, is this a pun or what?

Pseudo-reverential phraseology of this sort is exclusively reserved for old Man Utd heroes, but the language used is so baroque that the effect is usually inadvertently comical rather than respectful. For example, Eric wishes to say that Denis Law and George Best still turn up regularly at Old Trafford, but he chooses to express this simple thought in the following clumsy way, “They speak to us in the dressing rooms which they have not ceased to haunt”.

Maybe this is Eric’s polite way of saying, “I wish these old has-beens would get right out of my face”.

A recurring motif throughout the book is that arses belonging to anyone associated with Man Utd are religiously licked, while arses belonging to any of his pre-Man Utd colleagues or associates are kicked hard. Thus Alex Ferguson is “the head of my football family”, while Eric looks forward “with eager anticipation” to training sessions with Brian Kidd, of whom he says, “there is more than quality in what he does. There is love, and you can quickly see that he has been a great player”. (????)

All of the current United squad are given glowing references, though in his only mention of Brian McClair, Eric eloquently and accurately describes him as ‘the Scot’. A whole library of meaning and a multitude of sins are comprehended in those two short words.

Compare and contrast all this with his depictions of former colleagues. The former manager of the French national team, Henri Michel, is described pithily as ‘a shitbag’, while Howard Wilkinson is said to be ‘strange and incoherent’.

Add to these liberal compliments things like, “I would never have any respect for Raymond Goethals, manager of Marseille” and “I don’t like Bernard Tapie as a person” and you begin to get the idea that Eric knows which side his bread is buttered on, and that it isn’t really safe to be an ex-colleague of Cantona.

If Howard Wilkinson is ‘strange and incoherent’ then Christ alone knows what description is awaiting Alex Ferguson when Eric finally hangs up his red jersey.

Get Tae France

As befits such a sensitive soul, Eric has frequent sessions with a psychoanalyst. Indeed, it was apparently his shrink who recommended that Eric should move to England. This has similar ambivalent undertones to the fantastically ambiguous newspaper headline of a few years back which read, “Man who triPhotobucket - Video and Image Hostinged to enter Princess Anne’s bedroom taken to lunatic asylum”.

In other words, go to England, Eric, because you’re stone crazy and they’ve got loads of dementoids like your good-self over there. And so here he is. And there’s no denying that he’s been amazingly successful. Of course, his career, both in France and England, has been peppered with numerous highly unsavoury incidents, during which he’s demonstrated a complete mastery of the full range of the black arts. Petulance, violence, and dissent – whether singly or in combination – are just some of the vast array of unconventional talents which Eric brings to his work. His genius has been large enough to encompass instances of bad-tempered shirt-throwing, stamping on opponents, head-butting, spitting, orderings off in many exotic outposts from Turkey to Ibrox, and various other examples of comprehensive malevolence, all neatly rounded off with a punch-up in the press box at the World Cup.

None of this is Eric’s fault, of course. These things happen to him because of his genius and complex personality.

People (‘little shits’ as he succinctly put it) are out to get him.

Christ, the man is just a misunderstood saint.

Being one of the little shits in question, I have to confess that Eric is not exactly my tasse de the. I can admire his skill, but his brutality and conceit make it difficult to class him in the same league that he constantly invites the reader to place him in – along with Pele, Platini, Cruyff, Charlton etc.

There’s more to being a great player than being a great player (good grief, I’m starting to indulge in Eric-isms now. Let’s see, how does the old French proverb put it ? –

“A player who is not a great man is not a great player; a great man who is not a player is not a great player; but a player who is also a great man is a great player”.

In the dim and distant past there was a disc jockey by the name of Jack McLaughlin, the self-styled ‘Laird O’ Coocaddens’, who hosted some sort of absurd hoochter-teuchter show on STV. On one occasion he introduced the singer, Isla St Clair, by saying that she had often been compared to the celebrated French chanteuse of the fifties, because when she appeared the audience would cry out, ‘Pee Aff, Pee Aff‘.

It’s tempting to say that my reaction to this book is to invite Eric to ‘Pee Aff’, but, grudgingly, I am forced to admit that it’s light years better than the likes of Richard Gough’s pathetic effort.

I suppose it would make a half-decent stocking-filler for those of your nephews who’ve swallowed the myth of Man Utd and haven’t choked on it yet.

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