A BRITISH judge yesterday forgot a lesson every schoolchild knows: that 'sticks and stones' - to say nothing of flying kicks from a thug in football boots - 'may break my bones, but names will never hurt me'. In making that elementary mistake, Judge Ian Davies, who quashed Manchester United striker Eric Cantona's two-week jail sentence for assaulting a fan and ordered him to serve 120 hours community service instead, did the game and the public a disservice. No matter what the verbal provocation, Cantona should not so far forget himself or his position as an example to millions of fans to deliver a two-footed kung fu-style kick to the stomach of his tormentor. There has been a great deal of misplaced sympathy for Cantona since his disgraceful behaviour was televised directly into the homes of millions of fans worldwide. But Judge Davies should not have been swayed by the fact the footballer's many supporters in the sporting world felt he had been hard done by in the earlier judgment. The fact that the abuse would in the Judge's opinion have 'provoked the most stoic' should not be considered a justification for breaching the trust placed in sporting 'heroes' by the young people who look up to them. Judge Davies said he accepted the argument of Cantona's lawyers that he 'is entitled to be dealt with for the gravity of the offence committed and not be sentenced to make an example of a public figure.' However, it is precisely because he is a public figure that Cantona deserved an exemplary sentence. Sending him off to teach young people football for 120 hours instead of giving him the short, sharp shock that he and any potential imitator would deserve sends entirely the wrong message to the thugs on the terraces. Football violence is unacceptable, whatever the status of the perpetrator. The higher the profile, the more unacceptable it becomes.