My biggest fear coming in to The Class of 92: Out of their League was that it was going to be another BBC fluff piece, fawning over the Class of ’92 like that truly awful “”””documentary”””” on Wayne Rooney a few weeks ago (there aren’t enough inverted commas in the world to accurately describe my sarcasm in calling it that).
In the Rooney thing, pros and ex-pros alike fell over themselves to continue the narrative that Wayne Rooney is The Greatest English Player of His Generation, and how lucky we are to have him. “Look at him playing with his kids! He’s just like one of us! (apart from his £300,000 a week wages)”.
Being a lower league football fan, it concerned me that the two episodes would be 120 minutes of screaming in my face about how funny it is that non-league football is of a lower standard, and what Gods amongst men the new owners were for investing and trying to take the club out of this semi-professional hell-hole.
Fortunately, it was nothing like that.
Much of the programme focused on the degree to which the club mattered to the army of people who volunteer their free time to help keep the club afloat. Some of the best parts of both episodes were in seeing the reactions of those involved with the club before the Neville’s et al bought their way in, and how they felt about the changes they were seeing in front of their very eyes.
The highlight of the programme was when they announced that Singaporean businessman Peter Lim had taken over 50% of the club. Fearing that the identity of their club was about to change, and recognising the awful way in which the owners had communicated the situation, some fans talked very candidly about the arrogance of the new regime.
Given the subject matter, they really didn’t have to cover this situation. It would have been easy to Rooney-documentary it and just pass over the negatives, instead focusing on what a great job the owners had done at financing a new toilet. The fact that they even acknowledged that people like lower league football, and that they like it for what it is, was hugely important for the balance of the show. While everything turned out okay in the end (spoiler alert), the fact that they even mentioned that not everyone wants to support a Manchester United had real value.
But the main draw of the programme, of course, was seeing The Class of ’92 in action. And it was joy. If I were to picture them hanging out (which I often do, of course), they couldn’t have acted more like I expected them to if I had paid them (if I had pretended to be a Singaporean investor, perhaps):
- Gary Neville is the controlling yet oddly endearing one, who is constantly phoning the others, only for them to see it’s him and answer with all the excitement of a telemarketing call.
- Phil Neville is the kind-hearted, naive one of the bunch, completely unsuited to business but a really lovely guy (“are you still talking about Sadiq?” was one of the funniest parts of the whole programme, and the bit with his daughter was incredibly sweet).
- Paul Scholes is the quiet, snarky, does-not-give-a-sh*t-what-anyone-thinks Mancunian, who comes across far better when being himself than when he is paid to have an opinion on football.
- Ryan Giggs is the laid-back one who doesn’t really care about anything. At all.
- Nicky Butt isn’t there.
The programme wasn’t perfect, sure. The narrators insistence that they were achieving “against the odds” was a bit grating given the whole programme was about the f*cktonne of money that was being invested in the club, and the “drinking on a Thursday” bit was almost certainly staged for dramatic effect.
But on the whole, this was far more rounded than it had any right to be. As interesting as it was to see the Class of ’92 in their post-playing days (and they all came across very well), it was equally fascinating to see a small football club in a period of transition, and the chorus of characters who make it all happen.
It may have taken a group of the most decorated former players in English football to do it, but the lower league game finally got a much needed spotlight.
Class of ’92 Out of Their League Rating: Phil Neville going on and on about the young talent he has just found.