Cantona, Dinho, Shots, Bantams and... soap

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Gaz and Wendy Knight got lucky.

On my way to interview Eric Cantona in Marseille in July (to be published in the November issue of FourFourTwo, in shops October 1), I popped into an internet café. Gaz, a long time friend, had emailed to say he and his wife were holding a charity football match in August to help raise funds for SANDS: Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society.

Last year, their son Ged was stillborn at 37 weeks. It was fresh in my mind and I told Cantona about the couple and asked him to sign something which could be auctioned.

“I would like to do this,” replied the King, except there was nothing like a shirt or poster to sign. We were in the conference room of a Marseille hotel, stood by a large flip chart of A2 paper.

“Just write something on there,” I said, eyeing the big felt markers.

“What?” he asked.

“You’ve just told me that you’re an artist. Show it,” I replied. “Or write a message to the people of Manchester.”

With that, Eric did a Miro-esque squiggle and a message. So as not to crease it, I ‘borrowed’ the hotel’s roll of flip chart paper and tucked Eric’s work in the middle.

Eric 'the Artist' Cantona churns out another masterpiece 

Smartly framed, that squiggle was auctioned for £2,500 on Sunday. I would have been happy with a tenth of that – which is what a signed Ruud van Nistelrooy shirt went for.

Norman Whiteside, another former United great, turned up to support the couple and got impressively inebriated before telling a load of mates: “You know what lads, I’m just a working class lads like you lot. I’m just United!” With that, the Shankhill Skinhead’s stock rose even higher in West Manchester.

I wasn’t there. Instead I was playing cricket in Oxford at Jim White’s 50th birthday. Jim’s a United fan who writes for The Daily Telegraph. Other guests included another Red, the BBC’s Newsnight editor Michael Crick and Roger Alton, editor of the Independent.

By getting bowled out for a duck, I made a fool of myself in front of all. I’ve played cricket twice so my humiliation wasn’t surprising, but I also injured my foot fielding, an injury which stopped me training as Manchester La Fianna’s pre-season got underway last night.

There were eight or nine new faces and a similar number of players have moved on – to live in pastures new or, in the case of Dinho, join Spanish third division side Lleida, where Juande Ramos used to manage.

Dinho wasn’t offered a contract in South Africa with Ajax Cape Town after his trial. I hear his attitude could have been far better. To break the ice, we held a penalty competition and everyone who missed had to stand up and describe the worst girl they’d ever slept with.

The sight of shaking heads descending into hands became common, something I also saw in Hampshire on Saturday watching Aldershot vs Bradford in League Two.

The Recreation Ground: They don't make 'em like this anymore 

It was a superb experience. Baked in sunshine, a crowd of nearly 4,000 saw the Shots win 3-2 against the early league leaders. The walk to the away end took in a winding country path and once inside, Bradford’s sizeable following created a din to match the Ultras in the home end.

A traditional ground with pylon floodlights, terracing, pay on the gate and Bradford’s excellent City Gent fanzine being sold, it was a joy to attend.

Tradition added to the enjoyment, though even Aldershot have moved with the times. I’m not sure what was more bizarre – seeing fans stand obediently within a designated smoking area (a box marked in paint on open tarmac), or having a choice of three soaps or moisturisers in the away end toilets.

When you’ve witnessed the stinking, airless, lightless urinals of the away end at Derby’s former Baseball Ground, it seems like another world.