In the early 1990s, six young players rose from the ranks of the youth academy of Manchester United to form an exciting, title-winning, homegrown core of players so identifiable with the famous football club that they have already become part of its folklore.
Every football fan knows David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, the Neville brothers – Phil and Gary – who all played for England, and the Welsh wing wizard, Ryan Giggs, who became the club’s interim manager recently after the sorry saga of former manager, David Moyes.
Everybody also knows how dark the short-lived Moyes era went.
But before that, it was a much brighter era as the Super Six – Fergie’s Fledglings as they were dubbed – made waves under legendary club manager, Alex Ferguson.
They were talented, irrepressible lads who played, trained, battled and hung together so much that they set the drama, thrills, trends, tempo and style of that time which were reflective of the wider British society in the 1990s.
A youthful, zestful Tony Blair was set to become Prime Minister in 1997, the music, movie, artistic and cultural scenes of Britain – powered by the Manchester bands, The Stone Roses and Oasis, were booming – and Manchester United was rocking as the premier football club in not only England but, after their triumphant 1999 Champions League final, even Europe itself.
All these headiness and headlines are now captured in the fascinating documentary film, 'The Class Of 92', directed by two British filmmaker-brothers, Ben and Gabe Turner.
The brothers, collaborators in previous documentaries featuring singer Robbie Williams and Brit band, One Direction, among others, were witnesses to the period they have chronicled.
In a phone interview with inSing from London, Gabe, 33, explained the exhilarating madness.
“We had great music, movies, artists, supermodels taking on the world in Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Culturally, we were doing great things and it was a period where the British brand was thriving all across the world. And the Man U boys were a part of that.”
Gary Neville in a documentary shot. Photo: Universal Pictures
Along with Ben, 36, Gabe has mapped that period in captivating detail with 'The Class Of 92', which was released in Britain in December 2013.
Interspersed with archival footage, football action and nostalgic interviews with all six of the lads and others, including former prime minister Blair himself, the documentary traces the time in 1992 when the boys first snagged the Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup win, to the dramatic night when they came from behind in the last minute to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
In this wonderful trip down memory lane for Man United fans and even foes alike, the Super Six opens up about their friendship, camaraderie, victories, losses, happiness, sadness, and the time cheeky Nicky Butt burned the butt of fearsome goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel with a boiling kettle in a hilarious prank.
Now older, greyer and wiser, the band of mates articulate their time together with the poignancy of that classic bonding film, 'Stand By Me'.
Gabe Turner, who was there to capture those moments with his brother, tells us how they made the documentary film.
How did you decide that these six players were worth a documentary?
Actually, we were approached by the players themselves. They were interested in doing something together. They originally thought it’d be something for TV. But we felt that their story was big enough to be a proper movie. Many football fans – my brother and I included – grew up watching their story. A great story with all that they’d achieved – six friends out of the youth academy who won everything in European football. It was also interesting because it happened at a time – the heady 1990s – when Britain, dubbed “Cool Britannia”, was a very exciting place to be. We wanted to tie the two together. All the success of the players on the pitch juxtaposed with the success of Britain as a country at that time.
How difficult was it to make the film and how long did it take?
We made the film quite quickly in six months because the producers wanted the DVD out by Christmas 2013. Usually, it would be hard to get everybody together. But because the lads themselves came to us to make this documentary, it was much easier to do. The trickiest part was in arranging a day when we could get all six of them in the same place. Very tough due to their different schedules. Getting them individually wasn’t a problem. We were very happy to travel to their homes or wherever they were to do the interviews. To talk to Eric Cantona, Ben, my brother, travelled to France.
Ian Brown of The Stone Roses at the world premiere of 'Class of 92' in London. Photo: AFP
Besides Cantona, you also featured Tony Blair, film director Danny Boyle, The Stone Roses’ bassist Mani, and French football legend Zinedine Zidane.
We were surprised to be able to get the PM. Fortunately, he said yes. It was incredible to get Boyle too, because we needed his insight as his 1996 movie, 'Trainspotting', was a cultural icon. As for Zidane, when the six Man U boys were at their peak in the late 1990s, he was probably the best player in the world. He had various battles with them playing for Juventus and we felt that he was the best person to comment on them since he was also an opponent of theirs. He would’ve had a good understanding of what they were like to play against. And later, David Beckham became his teammate at Real Madrid. So Zidane provided a perspective nobody else had.
Er, we caught a glimpse of the infamous Man U enemy, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, in the archival footage too.
Haha. Yes. The Gallaghers, being rabid Manchester City supporters, decided that because the documentary was about Manchester United, they found it totally impossible to be a part of it. Noel Gallagher was the only person we asked to be in the film who said absolutely not. (Laughs)
David Beckham in a documentary shot. Photo: Universal Pictures
Was it easy to get the players to open up? There’s a nice bit where Becks and company went into the Man U dressing room with the shirts of the current players displayed.
That was the first time actually when they went into the changing room that Paul Scholes’ shirt wasn’t on the wall since he had just retired (laughs). Oh, the lads were very spontaneous. I think it’s because Sir Alex Ferguson had been very careful and strict with what he would let them say when he was their manager. Now that they’ve retired, they were very comfortable talking about the time they had. There’s nothing shocking in the film. But they just gave you a proper sense of who they really are.
I’m amazed that they still seemed so chummy after all these years. Surely you must have edited the disagreeable bits where they yelled at each other?
No, no, that’s all real (laughs). They’re good mates. Very good friends. They’re a lovely bunch to work with. They complemented each other so well. In any group, you’ve got to have different characters. These lads not only fitted well together, most importantly, they were very loyal to each other. They all had each other’s backs. They would all defend and protect each other through the hard times and they were there for each other during the fun times. It certainly helped that at certain stages in Man U, they had strong personalities like Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane to guide them on the field. Those guys taught them the importance of winning. What set the Class Of '92 apart was a real winning mentality.
Did you ever imagine while making ‘The Class Of 92’ that Manchester United would sink so low under David Moyes, and is the Moyes Era something best forgotten or something which would make a great documentary?
I think that everyone knew that after Sir Alex left, it was going to be difficult for a while. But Man U has such a great tradition I don’t think that what happened this past season will last for very long. Whoever is the next manager, the team will be much better and I don’t think that they are going to be trophy-less for long. And no. I like making films about people who have achieved amazing things. So it just wouldn’t be as interesting for me to do the Moyes Era story.
Former and current Manchester United footballers (left to right) Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Gary Neville at the world premiere of 'The Class of 92' in London. Photo: AFP
How do you feel about the new champs of England – the old enemy, the “noisy neighbours” over at Manchester City?
I think they’ve some lovely players – Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure – they’re a lovely team to watch. Look, my brother and I, we’re Sunderland fans. We were born in London, but our father and his family come from Sunderland. So we can be nice to every other team. Except Newcastle United. Oh, I can never be nice about them. As long as it’s not Newcastle, we’re okay with everybody (laughs).
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Will there be another group of players like the Class Of '92? Such as Danny Welbeck, Jonny Evans and the new scoring sensation named James Wilson?
Yeah, he’s the new kid to whom Ryan Giggs gave a debut. Who knows? Maybe one day. But I think it’s going to be quite hard to re-create what that original bunch of lads managed to do. It’s incredible what they had achieved. I’m not sure whether anyone will be able to do that again. It’s going to be very difficult to find another football story as good as the Class Of '92. That story was so perfect, it was easy for us to tell their tale.
Tell us something funny from the film.
During filming, we managed to play a bit of football with the guys. I challenged Ryan Giggs to a crossbar challenge. We both had a go at hitting the crossbar. We both did it. I hit it first and I thought that Giggs was going to miss. I was very excited. But then he hit the crossbar straightaway. As easy as anything. I didn’t beat him. I drew with him. Then I thought, hey, drawing with Ryan Giggs was a really incredible achievement (laughs).
Did you guys ever consider becoming footballers?
Certainly. Until we found out that we weren’t going to be very good at it (laughs). When Ben and I realised we weren’t good enough to play professional football, we thought we should do something else. We became filmmakers. We were not very good at playing football. We were just very good at watching football.
Catch 'Class of 92' at the Endeavours Film Festival | Date: 18 May 2013 | Time: 9pm | Venue: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane | Tickets: $15 from bytes.sg