Yesterday was exactly 25 years to the day the Class of ’92 joined as trainees. And the rest is history. Here is an interview with David Beckham, who was in a reminiscent mood of the glorious year in Manchester United’s history.
“Yeah, I’ve always said that those 10 years of playing with the likes of Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Keith Gillespie, Robert Savage- you know, all these great players that we all grew up with – that was the best time of my career.
I remember everything.It’s kind of, like it was yesterday. From being in lodgings in Salford, to playing in the European Cup final with players that played in that Youth Cup Final – it was a special time, and one that I’d never forget.”
Talking about those lodgings in Salford, being away from home, a young footballer trying to make it obviously, what was it like?
“I had a couple of different lodgings, but my favourite was Annie Kay. One of the reasons that I loved it so much was that Mark Hughes used to lodge there as well. So, the fact that I was in Mark Hughes’ lodging, and I stayed in the room that he stayed in – and things like that. And being a fan of Man Utd, and being a fan of Mark Hughes – that was a dream as well. There was something about Man Utd that I loved – I wanted to be a fan of them like my dad was.
“And once I became a fan of Man Utd at a really young age, I then wanted to play for them.”
Bringing these players together was Eric Harrison. Talk to us a bit about him.
“He scared the hell out of us, every one of us. It’s one of the reasons we succeeded like we did. You know I think, times have changed, where you wanna play for a club because you want to play for them – it’s not about money, fame, it’s not about anything like that. If you want to play for Manchester United, you work hard and you’ve got a chance.”
And there must have been players, just in terms of talent, that stood out.
“Yeah, I think they all had their talents. Each of their players that went all the way. Players like Giggsy, he started before us. He was kind of established in the first team, before we were anywhere near the team. But I think that you could always see the talent of Scholesy.
“He was a small kid, brave as anything – would kick you any chance he got. But, he was, and still is, one of the best midfielders in the world. So, we were lucky – because we had great coaches, and these players had amazing talent as well.”
As a group, did you know just how good you were?
“No, because we had someone like Eric Harrison coaching us. He never let us believe in the success that we were having as a youth team, in the success we were waving in the Reserve Team with Jim Ryan and coaches like that. We actually never probably had the chance to sit back and think – wow, we’re doing really well here. We weren’t allowed to think that. That, I think, is one of the reasons why we were so successful because everyone of us was down-to-earth, every one of us kept our feet on the ground. And at that point in time, if you weren’t that sort of player, you weren’t kept on. So, I think that was one of the reasons we were successful like we were.”
The final of the FA Youth Cup against Palace. Particularly fond memories of you, I guess.
“Yeah, same again. To play a team from London in the final. I remember, it was a big game – it wasn’t my greatest game. But, we had players out there that were performing – players like Ben Thornley. Every one of us performed throughout that competition. And then, to play against Palace at Palace, and then to come back to Old Trafford and win it in front of something like 25,000 – 35,000 fans – it was unbelievable.”
Presumably the whole regime at United helped you along the way in terms of doing that. But when you had inspiration from the likes of Eric Harrison, must have been nice.
“Yeah, it was definitely installed into me from a very young age. First of all, probably from my parents – my mum and dad were hard workers, so you follow on from there. And then obviously being put into a Manchester United team of Eric Harisson and Nobby Stiles, all these hard workers – it’s kind of embedded into you then. And then, I know that when we used to train with Eric – we used to train morning, afternoon, and then in the evening, we used to come in with the young players. So, there was a constant feeling of wanting to be at the club, and wanting to be training. And I remember him turning around and saying to me about going into the first team – he said, Neil Webb, he’s a good player, but you’re going to be taking over from him. And that kind of made me sit up and think, oh my god, I could play for the first team some day! And that’s one of the nicest things Eric said to me, I must admit. Yeah, I was nervous – I don’t think I spoke for a couple of years to many of the players. I only spoke when I was told to, or I was asked a question – that’s the only time I kind of, spoke. But then , you know, you had great characters like – one of the best, if not the best midfielder that I played with – Roy Keane. When you have characters like that in your team, you kind of, you don’t want to say anything. You just get on with it.”
I think people will find it hard to believe that there weren’t word of advice from Roy Keane.
“Oh, there was loads of advice from Roy, and Bryan Robson, and Paul Ince and obviously, Pally and Brucey. There was plenty of advice. But, I kind of – I listened to it, but I kind of didn’t hear it, you know. They were telling me something, but I was like – oh my god, Roy Keane is talking to me – it’s one of those. Bryan Robson is talking to me. It was, yeah. To be able to then, be brought into the first team, to be given a chance by Sir Alex Ferguson, you know… I remember the moment when he turned around, the final game of the Champions League against Galatasaray.
“And he had given us a chance in game, it was a big game, certainly it was a big game for us – Champions League game at Old Trafford against Galatasaray, strong team. We all thought – wow, this is going to be unbelievable. I remember the ball rolling out to me, I struck it, didn’t even hit it really well, but it went into the bottom corner. I started running off to celebrate, and all of a sudden, I’ve got Eric Cantona with his arm around me. That was one of the best moments of my career (smiling).
The legacy was created once we continued on, and once we were given a chance in the first team by Sir Alex Ferguson. Because it’s great being successful as a youth team, but then a lot of young players die off after that. Whereas Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Harrison, Jim Ryan, Nobby Stiles – they all believed in us, to give us a chance in the first team.
“It was that whole combination that created the legacy – we had an amazing time as a youth team, but it was what kind of started us off – Eric Harrison and the way he was with us, and the mentality that he gave us.”
Do you think the game’s changed too much for that group of players with that singular focus being together with the same drive?
“I’d like to think not, just because I’m a proud Englishman, and I’d love to see young English players come through at big clubs. But, will it ever happen again like it did in ’92 with us? I don’t know. Times have changed, but this romantic side of me, and the whole English side of me hopes that that does happen again because to have the amount of players that we had come through from the youth team into the reserve team into the first team, and then to play for England as well – it was a special time.”