Only a Game - Seagulls, neighbours and Swiss cow farmers


Footballer-cum-actor-cum, no your eyes don’t deceive you, New York Cosmos Director Football, Eric Cantona will forever be associated with a maritime allegory more at home in a book of poetry than at football press conference.

Cantona was shown a straight red card during Manchester United’s away game to Crystal Palace during the 1994/95 season; as he made his way towards the tunnel he performed a Street Fighter Two style ‘kung-fu’ kick on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons.

A press conference was hastily organised and the words uttered by the French footballer became timeless, refreshing and to a certain extent, inspiring.

Although Cantona has never really explained his words it is thought that he was referring to journalists when he predicted that they would monitor his actions very closely after the infamous Selhurst Park incident.

Cantona said: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea, thank you very much.”

Cantona took one more glance at the assembled band of journalists, rose from his seat and left the room.

I may have only been 12 or 13 at the time of Cantona’s offering but I remember it very clearly. I was assisting at a St. Columb’s College open night in Bishop Street when Marseille born Cantona recited this vivid piece of imagery.

As all this was happening I was a young boy trying to navigate my way through the depths of the horror that was puberty. With youth and inexperience came an innocent naivety and it wasn’t until I grew older that what Cantona had said impressed me once again.

I matured and as a twenty-something football obsessed lump of a lad my outlook on the world was pretty far removed from what it was on that January night in St. Columb’s College in 1995.

I soon realised that despite the fact he had only been living in England for three years, Eric Cantona had a better understanding of the English language than most of peers. The way he used the image of seagulls chasing a boat was as poetic as it was original; although ten years had passed by I found myself impressed all over again. The reason behind my Cantona revisited moment was that I was bored with the inane repertoire of the modern day footballer.

The modern day footballer prefers adverbs such as ‘basically’ and ‘obviously’ to images of sea birds chasing a fishing a boat; sad isn’t it?

If you were to look over every post-match interview during the 2010/11 English Premiership season you would be forgiven for thinking that déjà vu had become a weekly occurrence that you could set your watch by.

It’s inevitable that footballers should be trained in how to give an interview but it shouldn’t come at the expense of saying nothing at all. I’ve lost count how many times Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, John Terry et al have stood moving their lips, with words coming out of their mouths and afterwards the viewer is left asking the question; did he just totally reaffirm everything that just happened during the game? The answer is most likely, yes.

Earlier this week I was reminded at just how sanitised football has become when a journalist tried to elicit a comment from Alex Ferguson on Ryan Giggs.

Giggs has been at the centre of a scandal and it has been reported that he sought an injunction to prevent the media from reporting on an alleged affair with former ‘Big Brother’ contestant Imogen Thomas.

Ferguson addressed the assembled journalists before the press conference started and told them that he would be only be answering questions to do with the Champions League final with Barcelona.

One brave journalist asked how important Giggs was to the team; Ferguson replied that all his players are important but was then caught saying that he wanted to ban the journalist from other press conferences.

The Alex Ferguson of ten or 15 years ago would not have been as polite. He most certainly would have left the journalist under no uncertain terms where he stood and in between a few well placed profanities the journalist would never dare to ask such a question again.

Instead we, the fans, are forced to watch on as those involved with the game answer with nothing more than banal and inane explanations. What happened to the well crafted wordage of Cantona and the ilk? What has happened the fiery reactions of managers after brave and/or stupid journalists hit them with provocative questions after their team lose an important game?

All is not lost as hope flashed its bright light from the most unlikely of places this week when FIFA president Sepp Blatter started to talk about Swiss cows and neighbours.

In response to allegations from the English media that he had embarked on a smear campaign against his competitor for the FIFA presidency Mohamed bin Hammam Blatter said: “When a Swiss farmer’s neighbour has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well.

“When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbour does, that farmer will kill the neighbour’s cow out of sheer malice. I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

Make sense? No? It sounds good though, doesn’t it?