Ben and Gabe Turner tell Francine Wolfisz about their documentary, The Class of 92, which charts the incredible rise of six Manchester United stars.
Looking back on 1992, the Queen during her Christmas message to the nation infamously said that the year in question had been her “annus horribilis”. But for six talented young footballers at Manchester United, 1992 was dramatically different – for that was the year they were launched from virtual unknowns to global superstars.
Now the story of how David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and brothers Phil and Gary Neville arrived as six unassuming 14-year-old lads and quickly rose to become among the best-known names in football is told through a revealing new documentary, The Class of 92.
Featuring interviews with all six, The Class of 92 also features the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, former prime minister Tony Blair, musician Mani from the Stone Roses and film director Danny Boyle.
Charting the years up to 1999, the year Manchester United celebrated their European Cup triumph, the documentary is the latest film from brothers Gabe and Ben Turner and is produced by their partner, Leo Pearlman, one of their partners at Fulwell 73 Productions. Ben, 36 and Gabe, 33 are no strangers to producing sports documentaries, having worked together previously on the critically-acclaimed In The Hands of the Gods and Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport.[divider]
JN: When you were thinking about making your next film, what appealed to you about this story in particular?
Ben: We love football, and we’re always looking for stories that have a great football angle, but also something thematic, beyond football itself. On film you can never make a great football moment any better than it was at that time for the fans, but you can look at the significance of that story. We thought the story was emblematic of what happened in Britain during the 1990s and we wanted to tell people about it. It has been amazing fun.
JN: Are you both massive Manchester United fans yourselves?
Ben: Actually we are both Sunderland fans. But it also means we are not anti-Manchester United. In fact, we quite like them, because they stopped Newcastle winning the league!
JN: As brothers, was it difficult working alongside each other as co-directors?
Gabe: No, we are best friends! We are very close and this is our dream. The producer of this documentary, Leo Pearlman, is also our cousin. Our other Fulwell partner, Ben Winston [who has produced videos and films for boy band One Direction], is an old family friend, so we are a close unit. Leo’s family and our family have worked together for a few generations, so we are continuing that tradition!
JN: How many celebrities did you approach to be in The Class of 92?
Ben: We were very selective, because we didn’t want to swamp it with talking heads. We only had people in there if they really merited a place. The only person who wouldn’t be in the documentary was Noel Gallagher, because he’s a massive Manchester City fan – although he’s got plenty of affection for the boys! We begged him to be in the film, but the man’s got principles. Apart from that, we got the people we wanted. It was an amazing thing that Tony Blair and Danny Boyle wanted to be in the documentary. That was something quite special.
JN: Who was the hardest interviewee to convince?
Ben: Zinedine Zidane was tough, but he is a friend of Beckham’s. Being the gentleman he is, Becks sorted that one out for us.
JN: Who had the most surprising story out of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and brothers Phil and Gary Neville?
Gabe: I think the thing that surprised me the most was hearing about Phil Neville praying when times were tough. I had no idea about that. It was interesting to see the impact the media had on them at that time. Both Beckham and Neville, when they made mistakes while playing for England, received a lot of abuse. Listening to Phil talking openly and honestly about how hard he found it to cope with that, how he turned to prayer, was really interesting.
JN: David Beckham’s grandfather was Jewish – did he talk openly about his heritage with you?
Gabe: Sadly he didn’t, but he’s a good friend of our company and is always very positive about Jews. He’s a lovely man. He might not be Jewish – but he’s certainly a mensch! He even took time out to send us a Shana Tova email at new year!
JN: The Class of 92 shows these six players are actually quite modest, despite their superstar status. Did that surprise you?
Gabe: Yes, it was amazing. They were unbelievably humble and modest. It was really inspiring to see that from guys who are that successful and that famous. When we were filming, they took the time to talk to all the crew, everyone from the producers to the runners and they were just great to be around.
JN: Perhaps more than any other players before them, these six helped launch Manchester United into a global brand. What do you think their lasting legacy will be?
Ben: They came through at a time of massive cultural change and were at the forefront of that. I don’t know if they were necessarily the cause, but there’s no doubt football today is unrecognisable from what it was when they started out. They helped change it forever.
The Class of 92 is screening in cinemas across the UK available on DVD from Monday, 2 December.