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Nov 20, 2013

The Class of '92

Rating:

"I was talented but not as dedicated. If you don't practise or sacrifice, you've got no chance." Raphael Burke, Class of '92.

The story of "The Class of '92" is a simple one at its heart. Six friends meet as teenagers at Manchester United, and play football together rather well.

The protagonists are familiar faces. Five local lads in Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Gary Neville -- plus David "flash Cockney" Beckham, who despite being from London was a United fanatic who "knew more about the club than we did," according to Giggs.

Playing under famed United youth coach Eric Harrison, five of them (Phil Neville was in a younger age group) lifted the FA Youth Cup in 1992. It's safe to say that what happened next may never occur again in English football. Just seven years later, having had first-team football thrust upon them at an early age by Sir Alex Ferguson, they formed the core of United's all-conquering Treble-winning side.

"The Class of '92" -- produced by Universal Pictures, the company behind critically acclaimed documentary "Senna" -- provides a portrait of the six individuals who progressed from Fergie's Fledglings to European Cup winners. Crucially, the main focus is on the collective -- how such a close bond was formed between them on and off the pitch, a friendship that transcended each player's tenure at Old Trafford.

Though the story is well known, the men that shaped it -- their thoughts, their fears -- are not so. Scholes, in particular, has proved a footballing enigma over the years, distancing himself from the limelight at every opportunity. In "The Class of '92," he reveals himself to have a wonderfully dry sense of humour, recalling how he used to ping his famous long passes at players who dared turn their back on him in training. "It was just a bit of passing practice," he smiles wryly.

The sextet reflect on the rites of passage they went through on their way to the first-team. Amusing anecdotes abound, with Scholes put in a tumble dryer, Butt padlocked in a kit bag and Beckham forced to "perform sexual acts to a Clayton Blackmore calendar." Giggs talks of a halcyon night at Manchester's famous Hacienda nightclub and feeling Fergie's full wrath at a Lee Sharpe house party.

Interviews are interspersed with footage of United's key matches on their way to the historic Treble in 1999 -- the dramatic finale against Bayern Munich still brings guaranteed goosebumps and tears to the eyes of many fans -- while there is a fantastic moment when the class of '92 are brought together to play a five-a-side match, complete with retro kits. Laughs are shared between all the former teammates but some of the forgotten men bring with them a stark realisation of how fine the line is between success and failure. Chris Casper at least appeared for United's first team; Raphael Burke, in contrast, was released in 1993 and fell out of football.

The documentary is set against a backdrop of what was a rapidly changing political and cultural landscape in Manchester, and the UK, in the 1990s. The concept of New Labour's rise to power coinciding with a time of hope for United's football team is perhaps a bit of a stretch as success had already begun to roll in five years earlier, with the cameos of former Prime Minister Tony Blair feeling a tad forced.

More palatable are the cameos of Bury-born film director Danny Boyle and Stone Roses bassist Mani, with the latter at the heart of the "Madchester" music revival and an attendee at the 1999 Champions League final. Zinedine Zidane also offers his two cents, but it is United icon Eric Cantona, at his charismatic best, who perfectly summarises the tale of the film.

"It's a perfect script," Cantona says. "Only sport can give you this."