Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Fool time: When Manchester United great Eric Cantona signed for Ross County

Post Thumbnail

It was a story that shook Scottish football to its foundations and left many seasoned Ross County fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

But there it was in the Press & Journal in April 1995: the headline “Eric Says Oui to County”, which revealed exclusively how one of the world’s most famous and volcanic personalities was apparently en route to Dingwall.

At that stage, the Highland club was still in the Third Division, but their manager, Bobby Wilson, seemed to have landed the coup of the century by attracting Manchester United star and French international captain Eric Cantona to Victoria Park while he was serving a lengthy global ban for leaping into the crowd with a two-footed attack on a Crystal Palace supporter.

Cantona jumps into the crowd to kick a fan.
Eric Cantona sparked global headlines after attacking a fan at Selhurst Park in 1995.

The news was, quite literally, incredible, but County explained that a “little-known loophole in the Fifa regulations that bans him from playing anywhere in the world” did not apply to Scotland “which has its unique legal system”.

And, such was the convincing fashion in which all this information was conveyed that it was swallowed, hook line and sinker, by many supporters and officials throughout the sport in Scotland – who obviously hadn’t noticed that the date on that edition of the newspaper was Saturday April 1.

The club had signed a £10m deal

It helped, of course, that Cantona, a man who has now moved into acting and TV commercial appearances, as well as spouting cod philosophy about seagulls and trawlers, admitted to being thrilled at joining the County set.

Amid all the feverish bedlam as the story broke with its revelation that the club had signed a £10m deal with an unnamed whisky company in return for the publicity generated by the mercurial player, he said: “This will allow me to keep match fit without moving to France or Germany.

The April Fool's Day report in the P&J.
The switchboards were jammed after the P&J “revealed” that Eric Cantona had signed for Ross County.

“I have had a couple of other approaches from Scottish clubs, including Aberdeen and Motherwell, but I feel that Ross County is a club on the rise with a great atmosphere at home matches.

The clues kept on coming but….

“I like the fact that the crowd is so close to the touchline.

“It is so much more intimate than Old Trafford or Selhurst Park and I am sure the spectators will get a kick out of this transfer and my only regret is that County have left the Press & Journal Highland League, where I have always wanted to play.”

Okay, okay, we know you can smell something fishy, but Cantona’s decision was given a ringing endorsement by former Gothenburg Great, Alex McLeish, who explained how he and his club, Motherwell, had also been looking for Eric.

Alex McLeish didn't need to sign Eric Cantona: he already had Dougie Arnott!
Alex McLeish didn’t need to sign Eric Cantona: he already had Dougie Arnott!

He said: “We would have loved Cantona at Fir Park, but we already have three foreigners and, in any case, he is too similar in style to Dougie Arnott.

“But Ross County have shown great foresight in bringing Eric north.

“I thought we were ambitious at Fir Park, but Bobby seems to have trumped us all.”

The tale tricked many people

That same day, County were involved in a home tussle with Queen’s Park – and it soon became clear that the story had grown arms and legs.

The phones never stopped ringing, either at Wilson’s home or within the club itself, as fans, journalists and ticket purchasers swamped the switchboard.

Wilson said: “A surprising number of people were taken in by the spoof and they were probably the only ones who didn’t see the funny side of it.

“Everybody enjoyed it and even our public announcer got in on the act before the match against Queen’s Park.

“When he was announcing the team, he stopped at No 7 and apologised to the crowd because Eric Cantona had supposedly failed a last-gasp fitness test.”

Football writers were also conned

It wasn’t just the fans who took the bait. The Press & Journal reported on how several stalwart north-east journalists had also fallen into the trap.

It added: “One very experienced observer of North football, who would like his blushes to be spared, said he did not really believe that Cantona had signed for County, but phoned Mr Wilson, just in case.

Red alert: Eric Cantona to Ross County was the headline in 1995.
Red alert: Eric Cantona to Ross County was the headline in 1995.

“When he got through, he was told that the manager was on the other side of the park with the Frenchman, practicing high jumps.

“Then, when asked why, the club spokesman replied: ‘It’s just to give us an idea of how high we have to make the wall around the park.”

Eric Cantona to Ross County was a masterpiece of PR

Forbes Shand, the chairman of Highland League side Huntly, admitted he had fallen for the story at first and only realised it was a spoof after clocking the date on the masthead of the P&J.

He said: “I was quite happy that Cantona had been signed by County and not Cove Rangers, who we were meeting in the Jarlaw Aberdeenshire Cup at Keith in the afternoon, so it definitely made an impression on me.”

But there was even talk of the legendary player being given a grassroots mentoring role in the north of Scotland during his period at County.

He’ll have no issue with youngsters

The SFA’s Highland and Islands area community development officer, Ross Jack – the former Dundee, Everton and Norwich striker – said he was hopeful of persuading Cantona to parade his skills and trickery to local youngsters.

Readers had to be sharp to spot the April Fool.

He added: “We’ll use Eric’s talents to the full in our youth programme.

“Most of the kids involved on the West Coast are Gaelic speakers, so he won’t have any more of a language problem to cope with than I already have.”

Sacre bleu, this was a tale where even those feeling April foolish were left wondering what might have been.

McLeish had another stab in 2003

McLeish, the fabled Aberdeen and Scotland player, has always been up for spot of mischief and he was at it again after becoming Rangers manager.

In 2003 the news emerged from Ibrox that the club had just signed Turkish teenager Yardis Alpolfo from Galatasaray for a fee of £5m.

In an increasingly competitive sports reporting market, few people thought to check the story – just as Sky TV didn’t when Aberdeen were linked to a player called Yerdaz Selzavon – and many news organisations, including Reuter’s, ran with the “story” and ended with dollops of egg on their face.

Yardis Alpolfo is, of course, an anagram of April Fool’s Day!

Escape To Victory: Aberdeen FC’s ’80s heroes could have shared the stage with Stallone, Caine and Pelé