The names are familiar to anyone with even the remotest passing interest in English sport over the past two decades, shaping as they have the landscape of the country’s most successful football club during its most successful spell. Now, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt are lighting up a stage of a different kind in brothers’ Benjamin and Gabe Turner’s documentary Class of ’92.
The 90 minute doc is framed by two reunions for the eponymous graduates – one on the pitch and one at a dinner table, and is backed throughout by the build towards their all conquering 1998/99 season in which they formed the spine of a team that won a historic treble. The group’s pinnacle is shared not only with United but English club football as a whole, never achieved before or since and understandably becomes the focal point of the film.
Taking in the key moments of their time in the first team; the Beckham goal from the halfway line, the Giggs goal in an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, that Alan Hansen quote, Class of 92 crams in enough for United fans to enjoy alongside acknowledging the players’ impact on a larger scale. The recognition of the team overseas, Beckham’s treatment after receiving a red card for England at the ’98 World Cup, the rise of the celebrity footballer and the parallels with the tragically doomed Busby Babes all feature prominently.
Interspersed throughout are various talking heads as luminaries from the worlds of football, film, music and politics pepper the film, all popping up to pay homage to the achievements of the famed sextet. There’s Zinedine Zidane and Eric Cantona, two balletic French footballing wizards eulogising about the talents of the young and untested group, Stone Roses bassist and Manchester United fanatic Mani crops up to once again recall the halcyon glow surrounding Manchester in the 90’s while Tony Blair (yes really) and Danny Boyle throw some light on the greater context of a nation and a region waking from its Thatcher era unrest and revelling in its new found ‘cool’ status. This, somewhat inevitably, leads to a cool Britannia package, throwing in the usual montage of Noel Gallagher at Downing Street, Kate Moss strutting down a catwalk, Trainspotting and Four Weddings footage, all soundtracked by a clash of Britpop bands.
Despite the heavyweight nature of some of the guest contributors on show, the stars are still very much the players themselves. So rare it is to see footballers speak in anything more than robotic, clichéd drivel that it comes as a giddy delight to hear the witty interactions between this group, friends since the age of 14, and listen to the self deprecating recollections of their emergence on the footballing world.
The film succeeds in that most rare of things – making footballers likeable. Each of the six here are cast in a new light, the notoriously shy Paul Scholes is blessed with deadpan humour and a joker’s mentality, the Neville brothers, often seen as over competitive and boring, wryly observe their footballing limitations with a humorous humility and Nicky Butt is most definitely the man you’d want on your side of any battle. David Beckham has long had experience of this kind of camera intrusion and ably stays true to his nice guy image but the real shock is just how natural each of them are on camera. Special mention has to go to Ryan Giggs. A footballing miracle who first pulled on a United top at the age of 17 and is still playing in his 41st year, he has had his run ins with the media and his image took a nosedive in recent years but he is arguably the charmer of the bunch here, gracing each of his interviews with a dry humour and treating us to some fine impersonations of his fellow teammates.
Humble, funny, personable and friendly. Who thought these would be adjectives used to describe a collection of modern footballers? The Turner brothers deserve credit for that, on top of producing what is arguably the best sporting documentary of the year.
Universal Pictures UK
DVD Release Date:
2nd December 2013 (UK)
Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
David Beckham, Tony Blair, Danny Boyle, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes
Buy: The Class of ’92 DVD [Amazon]