Ah, 1992, what a year. George Bush and Boris Yeltsin declared a formal end to the Cold War; the Yugoslav Federation broke up; Los Angeles burned amid the Rodney King riots; the Czechoslovak Parliament – much like Charles and Di’s marriage councillor – approved separation, and Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States.
All seismic events for sure, but nowhere near as seismic as the promotion of five young tykes from Manchester United’s youth ranks to Alex Ferguson’s first team squad- at least not if legacy media coverage is anything to go by.
A near quarter of a century later, the one that still commands huge swathes of daily column inches is not the aversion of World War III but rather the promotion of Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Paul Scholes to first team Manchester United duties.
Make no mistake, five youth team players from the same age group going on to make thousands of aggregate first team appearances during the most successful era in the history of one of the most famous football clubs in the world is, without question, a remarkable story. But is it so remarkable that we need to endure near daily reminders of this oh-so-very-well-worn story some 24 years on?
The received wisdom goes something like this: Five world class players emerged from the same group at the same time at one particular club and changed the history of soccer forever, winning everything in sight, conquering all comers. Except, that’s not really true, is it? The decidedly more prosaic truth is more like: one world class player, one dependable full back, one massively overrated fashion model and two bang average squad players emerged from a pool of talent at a time when youth teams were regularly mined for first team material.
Except that narrative doesn’t really sell papers, does it?
Instead we’re force-fed perpetual updates on the status of each member of the ‘Class of ‘92’, as though the latest update will differ vastly from the one we invariably received the previous day. Of course, the reportage of each member cannot, heaven forfend, be as individuals. No, we must be reminded with each and every mention of the quintet that they are, in fact, members of the ‘Class of ‘92’. Is Gary Neville struggling at Valencia? No. But ‘Class of ‘92’s Gary Neville is. Was Nicky Butt appointed head of youth at United this week? No. But ‘Class of ‘92’s Nicky Butt was. Is Paul Scholes a vocal critic of Louis Van Gaal? No. But ‘Class of ‘92’s Paul Scholes is. And on it goes.