Eric Cantona. Scorer of incredible goals, kicker of fans, icon of football, actor - and, according to Irish former snooker world champion Ken Doherty, merciful reliever of awkward silences.
After winning his world title Doherty was at Old Trafford for what would turn out to be Cantona's final game in a United shirt, against West Ham in May 1997. He was introduced to the crowd at half-time, after meeting the players during their pre-match meal. But it would seem that the Manchester United team of that era did not possess any particular interest in snooker players or their achievements.
Speaking to Rob Smyth of 'The Guardian', Doherty outlined the role the big Frenchman had to play in breaking the ice:
Alex Ferguson brought me in to meet the players, who were all sitting having their lunch. I walked into the canteen, and he introduced me, and everybody just looked around. The whole room went quiet and I was standing there like a lemon with the cup; I didn’t know what to do.
There was silence for about 30 seconds, and it felt like an hour. Then this fella gets up off his chair and walks straight over and says (puts on French accent), 'Congratulations Mr Doherty.' I was shaking, I was looking up because he was so much taller than me and all I could say was, 'Thank you Mr Cantona.'
I shit myself! He was such a hero, and he was such a huge man. I didn’t know what he was going to say to me. He had a lot of class. It was a nice touch that he was the first up, and once he came up everyone followed suit. What I didn’t know is that he’d decided to retire and that would be his last game for United.
Eric Cantona meets Ken Doherty and almost immediately retires.
Also...how exactly does a lemon 'stand'?