Seagulls and football

“When the seagull follows the trawler it’s because they think the sardines will be thrown into the sea”

Probably one of the most famous yet misunderstood football quotes.

For football followers you will have already guessed the name of the person who made the comment – Eric Cantona, iconic Manchester United footballer. (28/10/03 Eric Cantona: BBC News)

Hundreds of words have been written by people trying to understand what Cantona was saying. The back story revolves around Cantona being physically tested on the football pitch, bruising foul after bruising foul. Manchester United was playing at Crystal Palace. And this was a time when bone crunching fouls, sliding tackles were seen to be part of the game, ‘it’s a man’s game,’ played by hard men. Reputations were built on how tough a footballer you were: ‘Chopper Harris’ of Chelsea, ‘Bite yer legs’ Norman Hunter of Leeds United, ‘Psycho’ Stuart Pearce of Manchester City. (Imagine, England’s national team had someone nicknamed Psycho playing for them, are they nuts?)

Cantona had been on the end of some of these bone crunching tackles and was being substituted. On leaving the pitch he was subject to some vile verbal abuse by a Crystal Palace ‘supporter’. Having been restrained on the pitch Cantona reacted to this abuse by jumping at his antagonist with a Kung Fu kick. It became one of the most talked about football incidents and still resonates across the years. For this Cantona was suspended by United, he appeared before the magistrates court on assault charges and received 120 hours community service. As far as I’m aware his antagonist was allowed to get away with the abuse (it’s all part of the game!), nobody from the opposing team who had aggressively and physically tackled Cantona were disciplined (it’s all part of the game!).

Returning to the game after serving his ’sentence’, a fine, suspension, and community service, Manchester United gave a press conference at which Cantona was present and at which he had nothing to contribute. When asked for a comment he gave what became his famous iconic quote, “When the seagull follows the trawler it’s because they think the sardines will be thrown into the sea” he then promptly got up and walked out.

The footballing world remained puzzled as did many other people, what did it mean?

Recently Cantona provided the commentary for a TV documentary on Manchester United which included the Seagull quote. The documentary concludes with Cantona commenting on the Kung Fu incident and he makes a final comment about the person who threw such abuse at him as he left the pitch.

When asked, ‘Did he have any regrets?’

“I don’t regret. I have one regret, I would have liked to have kicked him harder” Eric Cantona. The Team, Channel Four, 24th May 2021

Was Cantona bearing a grudge, holding onto a cruelty from the past? One could argue that the price was paid, time served, you’re free to go. Fame followed, wealth, the future is relative, but the past wants to hang on in there. It’s that letting go which makes it so difficult. You may have moved on but at times when you lie in bed unable to sleep because a past hurt has crept into your mind, a protagonist enters and you react, plotting and planning scheming against this person for what they did to you or someone you loved – that’s not freedom. Some folks make sure they take revenge, footballer Roy Keen is an example; others live with the regret that they had not inflicted more damage on a person, Eric Cantona.

Being haunted by the past is more than turning the cheek; it involves understanding the true nature of forgiveness and then practically applying that understanding. There is a verse in the book of Psalms that challenges us to consider the nature of sin; and consequently the nature of forgiveness. To forgive someone is a very powerful action, as is accepting forgiveness; however those guilty moments that creep upon us can weigh heavily on our minds,

Psalms 32: 5 says this; “You forgave the guilt of my sins”. Not just forgiveness of sin, but forgiveness for the guilt of my sin. Free at last.

Image credit: Stefano Girardelli via Unsplash