It feels like yesterday that Alan Hansen famously wrote off Manchester United's young side at the beginning of the 1995/96 Premier League season, insisting that "you'll never win anything with kids". Yet, here we are over 18 years later, still talking about that very team, enough to warrant a much-anticipated documentary.
The Class of 92 centres around six members of that season's winning side, who rose from the ranks of United's youth team to become some of the most celebrated players in the history of the game. On paper, one may feel this would be aimed purely at Manchester United fans, but soon after the initial introductions, this clearly isn't the case.
David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt take centre stage in the film, which documents their careers from 1992 to 1999, culminating in United's Treble triumph in the Champions League final.
The film isn't a simple linear 'look back' at what happened each season from '92 onwards. Each member has his own section, revealing new stories and quirks that may not have been seen before. As the story is told, games and moments from the Treble season emerge here and there, to build up the momentum for the big climax in Barcelona.
Directors Ben and Gabe Turner have clearly found a way to get the best out of these players. Footballers are not always known for their flamboyant personalities, and so a whole film featuring players discussing anecdotes and memories may not sound like great qualities for a film. However, each player – even the quiet Paul Scholes – come across funny, relaxed, relatable and interesting.
Giggs and Scholes in particular show completely different sides to themselves than has previously been seen on the pitch or in press interviews. Giggs's impression of Beckham is particularly impressive. One gets the feeling that these players are the last of the 'old school' generation of footballers in a world before Twitter and smartphones. We may not be getting the same kind of stories from the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Messi in 20 years, as good as they are at football.
Beckham appears somewhat restrained compared to his usual self, but this may be down to him not wanting to dominate the subject for once. Aside from the chapter dedicated to him, each player gets the same amount of concentration, give or take. Obviously, Beckham and Giggs have more stories to tell than Phil Neville or Butt, but they are on screen for pretty much the same amount of time. This translates well to the overall theme of the story that these players worked brilliantly as a team, rather than individuals.
The film is well chaptered throughout, dealing with moments, stories and matches that viewers will want to see. Beckham talks in depth about his sending off for England in the 1998 World Cup, showing some clear emotion in the process, still to this day.
Eric Cantona and Zinedine Zidane appear as talking heads from the football side of things, giving a unique insight from inside United's changing room and looking in from afar. Danny Boyle and Mani from The Stone Roses also provide analysis from a cultural standpoint, especially the team's effect on Manchester at the time. The film brushes on United's place and influence on British culture in the 1990s, and how hope and change were themes running throughout both the club and country at the time. Although it has cultural significance, the film doesn't stray too far away from remaining a sports documentary.
The players' former youth team members also make a reappearance (including Robbie Savage). Raphael Burke reveals the pressures of early talent, and how not all of the Youth Cup-winning side went on to have the same kind of careers. It would have been interesting to have heard what happened to every single player from that side, so it was perhaps a shame that only a couple of them are on screen.
Tony Blair strangely appears as a talking head a number of times. Clearly an important figure in British culture in this era, he provides a certain authority to the film by discussing the players' effect on the country. However, he is possibly the only person who doesn't have a direct link to United or Manchester culture, and so his presence is somewhat confusing at times.
Surprisingly, Sir Alex Ferguson does not appear in new interviews, and only features in archive material. He's possibly the most important figure to these six players' lives and careers, meaning his absence is felt. However, the film is meant to be about these six individuals, and his presence may have taken away some of the attention, as his story alone is crying out for its own documentary.
There is no narrator in the film, which is quite a welcome decision. The film proved that it didn't need a voiceover explaining everything, as pictures and interviews were perfectly capable of doing so.
One little irk is the use of recently-recorded football commentary from ITV's Clive Tyldelsley, who is perhaps not everybody's favourite commentator. Aside from the Champions League final, his voice is used on top of archive material from matches, rather than the original commentaries, which sounds rather forced. This may have been used to have some kind of continuity or for the commentator to say relevant statements, but it may have been easier to have just used the original commentaries from the likes of Martin Tyler or John Motson.
Interviews and archive material are interspersed with beautifully shot slow-motion skills by the players, giving another insight to each player's style and personality, such as Beckham's flamboyancy and the cheekiness of Butt. It's also refreshing to see the six enjoying a drink while reminiscing. It is shot in a way that makes it look as if they were just hanging out and there just happened to be a camera there. So much so that Beckham reveals that he once performed a sexual act on a calendar as part of his initiation.
Pascal Bideau's score is rather wistful, especially for a sports documentary. In particular, hairs stand up on end when the players discuss the Champions League final, with a sinister murmur playing in the background, building up to a wonderful crescendo. It is also welcome that bands such as Oasis, The Stone Roses and James were used rather than current music, as it helps transport you to the era and area in question. The use of Jake Bugg during the credits is quite poetic, as it arrives soon after the players ponder the future of football, United, Manchester and UK culture.
While this film is obviously a must for football fans and Manchester United fans in particular, the film has enough style and interest for those who are not that bothered about sport to still find something valuable inside it. The simple story of six young boys working hard and in perfect harmony with each other, going on to become genuine world beaters, is a brilliant synopsis for a fictional movie, let alone a documentary. Manchester United and its players – Beckham and Giggs in particular – have become so culturally significant to Britain over the past few decades, that most people should be interested in catching a well-crafted document of recent UK history.