Class of '92, the
founding marketing tool documentary behind the making of the band formerly known as Fergie's Fledglings was the subject on this week's edition of The Reducer podcast.
(A brief interlude: If you're unaware of the pod, each week Gavin Cooney of this parish is joined by Irish Times columnist and Friend of Mary McAleese Seamas O'Reilly to discuss a cultural curiosity. Previous editions include FIFA's United Passions, Tim Lovejoy's execrable Lovejoy on Football and the novels of Steve Bruce. The founding story is explored here).
You can listen to the latest episode by subscribing to the show on iTunes or by searching 'The Reducer' wherever you get your podcasts... you Android heathens.
Class of 92 tells the story of how David Beckham, Ryan Giggs,
Robbie Savage, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Nevilles went from the lower reaches of United's youth teams t0 the European Cup final of '99.
It features a few engaging 'remember whens' with the six players involved, along with a panoply of talking heads including Zizou, Danny Boyle, Mani from the Stone Roses and, er, Tony Blair. Oddly, the only contribution from Alex Ferguson is dredged from archive footage.
It tells the story and the parallel cultural boom in Manchester well, but the documentary is undermined by its sheen of marketing for the six players involved. That it chooses to come to a crescendo on That Famous Night In Barcelona means we are treated to an ode to Alex Ferguson without delving into the murkier realities of subsequent events, most notably David Beckham's boot-to-the-head hastened exit.
As the story unspools, it can't help but be drawn to arguably United's most dominant figure of that era, Roy Keane. He is referred to as "Keaney" throughout by his erstwhile teammates, a level of whimsy we are surprised Keane tolerated.
Phil Neville comes across as you might expect - eternally, hopelessly earnest - and it is in his recollection of one tale speaks to exactly the Keane we would imagine.
As a full-back, you need to develop a trick. Mine was the stepover. I did it during a game at Old Trafford once, and got to the byline to cross and we nearly scored from it.
As I was running back, Butty, Becks and Keaney were laughing their heads off. I couldn't understand for the life of me why they were laughing; they were wetting themselve at me.
So the next time I got the ball, I threw in a double stepover. The crowd all cheered, I think they thought I was taking the mickey. But this was something I was serious about, and that I'd worked on for six months.
So I turned around after doing it and caught Roy Keane staring at me. He just said..."Stop. Fucking. About".
Poor Phil. Here's how Seamas reacted on the podcast:
Y'know when you're playing five-a-side as a kid, and one of your mates' Dads joins in because you are short of numbers. That's sort of what I feel Roy Keane was like around those players.
Like some screaming accountant taking out his terrible marriage on the kid around him. And he was probably only 26! You look at a picture of Keane when he was 25 and he looked 40. He has always had that uncanny, negligible senescence of evil.
Phil's religiosity is a trait that emerges from the documentary. So intense was the criticism after his balls-up at Euro 2000 cost England dear, he took to saying a pre-match prayer that he would do himself and his family proud, a ritual he persisted with until the end of his career. He invoked a couple of times throughout the documentary, and recalled popping into the chapel at the Camp Nou before the '99 Champions League kick final. (It is tucked in adjacent to the tunnel, where players are supposed to pray before "going out to get murdered" in Phil's words.
Elsewhere, the gang explore the appalling hazing rituals of the United senior squads, which featured Nicky Butt being locked in a gear bag, Paul Scholes having a panic attack while locked in a tumble dryer and David Beckham being forced to perform a sex act on Clayton Blackmore's calendar. Beckham, who history will judge very well, states his pride at his United contemporaries being the ones to call a halt to the
banter extreme psychological terror.
Ryan Giggs proves far less dull than we feared; Nicky Butt more loved than we realised; Gary Neville was....exactly what he expected.
Problematically, Tony Blair pops up to retroactively warp United's success as being congruous with his with New Labour. "What was great was that impossible became imbued with a sense of possibility and was actually done" gurned Blair.
Here's how Seamas reacted on the podcast.
I met Tony Blair when I was 12, and asked him what football team he supported. He said Newcastle, but he went to a rugby school and has as much interest in football as I do in fucking tiddlywinks.
Before the Man United/Newcastle FA Cup final of 1999, Tony Blair picked his all-time Newcastle XI and Bertie Ahern picked his all-time Manchester United XI.
I'm pretty confident that Tony Blair couldn't name a single current Newcastle player.
But he came to visit Seagate in Derry, beside our school. It was just after he won election in 1997, and I was in my first year of secondary school. I shook his hand and asked him what football team he supportedm, and he said Newcastle. That was it.
He was very genial, and I do remember turning to my friend and saying, 'He is probably going to start a massive ego-complex war that will kill between three-quarters of a million and two million innocent Iraqi citizens. Sometimes you just get a sense for people.
But it is a very self-serving appearance, and jarring. They could get Tony Blair, which is a pretty big get for a documentary which appears not to have been able to get Alex Ferguson. It is weird that Blair gets as much time as Ferguson.
At least Danny Boyle talks about being a Man United fan, and his memories of the Busby Babes. For Tony Blair to turn up...it didn't seem necesary for him to be there, and he seemed to prove that by refusing to discuss anything related to the documentary that he was in.
Overall it is worthwhile, and if this were a contrived podcast we would award Class of '92 68 marks out of 92.
But we didn't do that.
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See Also: Revealing Extent Of Sepp Blatter's Control Over United Passions