Class Of '92 Makes Us All Nostalgic

You don't have to be a Manchester United fan to feel nostalgic when you read about the Class of '92. Ordinary boys in the middle of an extraordinary coincidence...

Last Updated: 02/12/13 at 10:58 Post Comment

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'Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun. Shine on you crazy diamond.'

Whatever age you are, looking back to when you were younger is often fraught with danger. The past is a foreign country and it's sometimes best not to visit without the proper injections.

I really struggle with being an older dude, feeling almost overwhelmingly melancholic about times that have gone and are not coming back. No amount of living on the edge, hard partying or good times make up for the passing of the years and the irreducible fact that every morning you are one day closer to death. I get eaten up by regrets and fret over paths not walked, choices not made and opportunities missed. Maybe it's just my age but I want that time back to live again. I got here way too quickly and it scares me.

But despite all this, I know there is absolutely nothing I can do about any of it. You can only live one life, take the path you take and do what you do. So it's all fruitless neurosis, yet it's a common enough condition. We're all nostalgic about some time or other. If you're a Manchester United fan, maybe it's 1992.

A movie is released this week called Class Of '92. It sounds like it might be a terribly unfunny National Lampoon movie featuring Chevy Chase. In fact it's about six Manchester United footballers.

The participants have been all over the media in the last week, so I'm sure you know the six. But in case not, they are David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Gary Neville.

1992 isn't that long ago really until you realise that people born in 1995 became adults this year. Feeling old yet? Well the Class of '92 is bound to make us all feel a bit aged and creaky. The fact that these six mostly English players came through a United youth team together and went on to be star performers now seems a quaint and old-fashioned story. Indeed, it's the very exotic nature of this achievement which gives a glorified documentary of this sort some weight and heft.

It'd be easy to imagine an 18-year-old watching this with some degree of disbelief. It must look like a sepia-tinged halcyon daydream; a club's youth team providing six first-team players, all of them international quality, all of them fixtures for season after season, winning title after title. It sounds fantastical and romantic and the truth is, it is.

In the publicity pictures, there the boys are, shirt out over jeans, a style now ubiquitous but first popularised in the early 90s. The exception to this is Phil Neville who is dressed like a plain clothes copper and somehow looks like he is wearing a tie even when he's not.

In some pictures they're captured wandering through an unforgiving urban landscape, hands in pockets, looking like a slightly less exotic version of the Take That reunion. They were boys back then, now they're men heading towards middle-age. Their time is gone now and a new generation at Manchester United has to keep new manager/angry bus driver, David Moyes in a job.

But they beg the question, could the Class Of '92 happen again at the top level? It seems very unlikely, not least because there's simply no point in a club making that kind of long-term investment in kids or risk introducing six youth team players to the first team. There's no need. Any top club can now simply buy their international players from somewhere else. Chelsea's youth development hasn't delivered a first-team regular since John Terry despite endless promises to do so. Now, it no longer matters. It doesn't matter to the club, the fans, the players, the owner. Only winning stuff matters and you win stuff by having more of the top players than anyone else and you do that by buying loads of them. Manchester United know that now. They'd win nothing with six Danny Welbecks.

Arsene Wenger went on for years about the youth team providing a lot of players to the first team, but it never happened. They started with two on Saturday, though that's more than most. Liverpool's youth team is forever vaunted but delivers little in terms of regular top-notch first-team players. Manchester City? Spurs? Everton? Forget it. It'll never happen. I'd wager that there is not a hope in hell of any of them winning the league with six British youth team graduates in the first team any time soon.

But then, even prior to 92, it was rare for a top side to have six youth team graduates in their title-winning sides. The Class Of '92 was simply an extraordinary coincidence; a time when the boys were good enough players and the club wasn't yet financially dominant enough to just buy in talent as needed.

Perhaps the culturally shocking thing about the Class Of 92 is that despite being at the top of their professions for so long, six of the seven seem so very ordinary and un-flash. Clearly, Becks is a remarkable exception but the others look like lads from your local Halifax Building Society. Nice enough but a bit plain and boring. All of those six are fabulously rich but somehow, they look like part of society in a way that few modern-day footballers look. A bit better groomed than your average Joe and not yet sporting the thickened waist of the non-sportsman (though Gary does appear to be growing sideways), but essentially like anybody you'd pass in the street.

And perhaps that is the most remarkable thing about this group. Born into football just ahead of the tsunami of money from which they were later to surf on so handsomely, they hadn't been financially pampered from an early age and had to clean the boots of senior players like Mark Hughes and Bryan Robson and were pleased to do so for the reflected glamour. Maybe that grounded at least six of them and maybe even led to Beckham, despite his almost ludicrous, cartoonish life, still seem like a nice lad at heart and certainly impossible to dislike.

There's always a warm glow of remembrance about the glory days when you used to run with the pack. We all look back to a time when we were younger and had more hair and more life ahead of us with that bitter-sweet feeling of warmth and pain. At a time when it's sometimes hard to love the culture of football the way we once did, Class Of '92 is a reminder both of how far that culture has changed and just how remarkable their collective achievements were. United fan or not, it's hard not to look back and feel nostalgic and perhaps feel that those were better days.

Go to www.johnnicholsonwriter.com to read and buy Johnny's superb new trilogy of crime novels.

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