King Eric, pirates and penalties

The Cantona interview was confirmed yesterday, so I’m to see him in Marseille “between 1400 Monday and 1400 Tuesday.”

I’m working out how to get to France’s second biggest city. The only direct flight between Barcelona (where Eric lived for three years after leaving Man United) and Marseille (where he lives most of the time now), the Mediterranean’s two biggest ports, costs £904 return. Ridiculous.

The train takes eight hours, a boat even longer, but Ian Hawkey, the Sunday Times European Football correspondent who lives in Barcelona, reckons I can drive it in five. The Beach Soccer World Cup starts in Marseille next week and Eric is apparently integral to the French setup, though not as a player.

Cantona: Integral to French beach soccer, not as a player...

I’ll be in France twice next week, as my flight to South Africa for Man United’s pre-season tour and the Orlando Pirates vs Kaiser Chiefs game is via Paris… it feels like the season has started again.

For my brother Joz, who plays semi-professionally, pre-season training has started at a new club, Trafford, who had 51 players at their first session. There are countless footballers who make the football equivalent of a New Year’s resolution to get themselves in shape and join a team each summer.

Joz is 31 and a diet of cigarettes and alcohol mean he’s unlikely to play as long as Lord Edward of Sheringham.

He’s returning to Trafford, who are based in Urmston, West Manchester, where we grew up. It’s the club where he started out before a rise that led him to scoring in the penalty shootout for Altrincham at Nuneaton Borough in the 2005 Conference North play-offs.

I was the giddy older brother who followed his progress closely, who got into arguments with a freak wearing a puffa jacket who slated him at Stalybridge - top scorer Joz had failed to find the net in each of the first three minutes - who jumped up and down on a bus in Latvia after receiving a text to say he’d scored the winner away for minnows Ashton at promotion favourites Southport.

I was the one who stood alone away at Barrow on a Tuesday night after turning down a job to cover Barcelona at Celtic Park. Barca were brilliant. Barrow were not. Their 20 strong hooligan firm sized me up, but ignored me when Joz scored the equaliser in a heavy downpour and I ran down the terraces to celebrate with him.

I was in Spain for the Nuneaton game in 2005. Altrincham were not expected to reach the play-offs and I had a date. It didn’t go well after I peeled myself away from a meal to listen to BBC Radio Warwickshire on the internet, where I heard the words.

“The sub is Mitten. He looks a handful.” The concerned co-commenter agreed. My pride surged and I shouted: “That’s my brother.” At a computer screen. Never did see the girl again, but 20 minutes later, I heard: “And Mitten steps up to take the penalty. 2,500 Nuneaton fans hold their breath. Hits it hard and low. Disaster for Borough. It’s in!”

Penalty hero: Joz Mitten 

Joz had no excuse for missing penalties. Our great Uncle Charlie held the record for the most consecutive penalties scored at Manchester United until Eric Cantona came on the scene. He once scored three at Aston Villa away in 1950, and told the goalkeeper where he was going to place each one.

Charlie always said that you should never miss from 12 yards. I’ll ask Eric for his thoughts “between 1400 Monday and 1400 Tuesday”. And if you’ve got a question for Cantona, please leave your questions in the FourFourTwo forums

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