Manchester United announced the death of their revered former youth team coach Eric Harrison on Thursday, leading to numerous tributes for the man responsible for the development of one of the greatest dynasties British football has ever seen: the ‘Class of ’92’.
Harrison joined United in 1981 and was put in charge of the club’s youth set-up under manager Ron Atkinson.
He was kept on when Alex Ferguson was hired as Atkinson’s successor five years later and ultimately helped forge one of the most successful periods in United’s history.
As head of United’s youth team, Harrison oversaw the development of the group of players that would become known as ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’.
The FA Youth Cup-winning side of the 1991-92 season was his most successful, while Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher were among those to come through later.
That ‘Class of ’92’ generation was his crowning achievement, however, and Omnisport have looked back on the starting XI that beat Crystal Palace 3-2 in the second leg of the final on May 15, 1992, securing a 6-3 aggregate triumph.
We are extremely saddened to report that our former youth coach Eric Harrison passed away last night. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Eric’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time. pic.twitter.com/vS94a8MKxr
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 14, 2019
Goalkeeper – Kevin Pilkington
Pilkington went on to make a handful of appearances for United’s first-team before leaving in 1998. However, he was never likely to make a huge impression given the presence of Peter Schmeichel. He went on to play for a number of lower-league clubs, spending five years apiece at Mansfield Town and Notts County.
Defender – Gary Neville
One of the real success stories from this side, Gary Neville was an extraordinary servant in the United first-team, making 602 appearances across a career-long association. The right-back became club captain in 2005 – a duty he also had in the academy – and won every trophy possible, including eight Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues. He is now a prominent television pundit and involved in the running of National League side Salford City, alongside Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Scholes and David Beckham.
We’ve lost our mentor , our coach and the man who made us. He taught us how to play , how to never give up , how important it was to win your individual battles and what we needed to do to play for Manchester United Football Club. Eric we owe you everything pic.twitter.com/iv0uisTGCl
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) February 14, 2019
Defender – John O’Kane
“Gary Neville got your career,” was a jab John O’Kane had to contend with from friends on a regular basis, as he explained to the Manchester Evening News last week. Highly rated as a youngster, O’Kane did go on to play for United in the Champions League, among other competitions, but he was sold to Everton in 1998 after failing to make the grade. He went on to play for Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool and Hyde United.
Defender – Chris Casper
Centre-back Casper was unable to establish himself in United’s first-team, despite being well-regarded by England, captaining them at youth level. He played professionally with Reading, but his career was cut short by injury at 24. He is now sporting director at Salford City, working with some of his former United team-mates.
Eric Harrison wasn’t just a great coach in the development of many players, he was also a great man who guided young people and helped shape the lives of many more, thanks for everything Eric
— Chris Casper (@ChrisCasper1) February 14, 2019
Defender – George Switzer
On the opposite flank to Gary Neville was George Switzer, another who managed to win a professional contract with United on the back of FA Youth Cup success. However, he was only offered a one-year deal and ultimately left for Darlington in 1993, never managing to play at more than a modest level. But, as he told the MEN in 2012, Ferguson said he would “always be your boss” when he departed, helping him make his next move.
Midfielder – David Beckham
England captain, Real Madrid ‘Galactico’, globally recognised heartthrob, married to a Spice Girl – Beckham needs no introduction. He played for United’s first-team for 11 years, and although his time at the club ended after an infamous spat with Ferguson, the right-sided midfielder remains an Old Trafford icon and he went on to become one of England’s greatest players, with only Peter Shilton and Wayne Rooney getting more than Beckham’s 115 caps.
We’ve lost our mentor, our coach and the man who made us. He taught us how to play, how to never give up, how important it was to win your individual battles and what we needed to do to play for Manchester United Football Club. He was always watching and always with us everytime we played, I can still hear him telling me NO MORE HOLLYWOOD PASSES. I can still see him as we played on The Cliff training ground looking down on us either with a proud smile or a loud bang of his fist on the window knowing any minute he would be on his way down to probably advise me in the most polite way to stop playing those passes. More importantly he made us understand how to work hard and respect each other and not just on the pitch. We won’t forget the life lessons he gave us. Eric we love you and owe you everything. Gary, Phil, Ryan, Paul, Nicky and David.
Midfielder – Nicky Butt
A tenacious central midfielder, Butt – like Beckham and Neville – was a key part of the United side which won the 1998-99 Champions League. He featured almost 400 times before leaving for Newcastle United in 2004. He has since returned in a coaching capacity and is head of the club’s academy, overseeing the development of another promising batch of players, which includes Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes.
Midfielder – Simon Davies
Although Davies managed to make 20 appearances for United, the midfielder – who played once for Wales – only went on to have a humble playing career, featuring for the likes of Luton Town, Macclesfield and Rochdale, among others. He has worked with Manchester City’s reserves and academy since 2013.
Midfielder – Ben Thornley
During his early years, left winger Thornley was generally expected to become a fixture in the United squad. However, his development was ruined by injuries, with one caused by a heavy tackle from Blackburn Rovers’ Nicky Marker in a reserve game, and Thornley sued both parties for a loss of earnings in 1997. He did manage to carve out a career, playing for Huddersfield Town, Aberdeen, Blackpool and others before calling it quits.
Such sad news to hear of Eric Harrison’s passing-he was an integral part of my education-not only in football but life in general-hard work, commitment and respect. A brilliant mentor to whom I owe-as others before and after me do-so much. Thank you Eric, may you rest in peace xx
— Ben Thornley (@benthorn30) February 14, 2019
Forward – Colin McKee
Despite winning the Player of the Year award for United’s reserves in 1993, McKee was not up to the required standard to become even a rotation option. He left in 1994 for Kilmarnock, spending most of the rest of his career in his native Scotland.
Forward – Ryan Giggs
The greatest United player of the modern era? Giggs certainly has a claim to such a title. The left winger made a remarkable 963 appearances for the club across 23 years, more than any other player, and is the most decorated British player of all time. Slaloming runs and close dribbling became synonymous with the Welshman as he dazzled Premier League defences for more than two decades. He eventually hung up his boots in 2014 having become interim manager after David Moyes’ sacking, before acting as assistant to Louis van Gaal. He is now Wales manager.
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