Manchester United’s Class of ’92 needs no introduction. The kids that they famously said Sir Alex Ferguson would never win with became the backbone of a squad that dominated the Premier League and FA Cup throughout the 90s and early ’00s and were the spine of the only English team to ever win the Treble which they accomplished in dramatic fashion in 1999.
Along with their greatness, the Class of ’92 was also known for their longevity. While the Class of ’92 didn’t get to play out their careers together (David Beckham left for Real Madrid in 2003, Nicky Butt left for Newcastle in 2004, Phil Neville left for Everton in 2005), Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs all played out their Manchester United careers until the early to mid 2010’s.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and for a group of friends as competitive as these men were, something needed to fill the void.
Enter Salford City FC.
For those that don’t know, Salford is city and Metropolitan Borough of Greater Borough of Greater Manchester, located merely meters from Old Trafford, where most of the Class of ’92 grew up. The city also houses Salford City F.C. which as of the 2014/15 season, was a semi-pro non-league club in the eighth division of English football.
But that’s when everything changed.
Left by the void of no longer competing in the top level, class of ’92 besties Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, and Paul Scholes decided to get into football ownership and bought the local club. From an outsider perspective, you would think this would be welcomed by the club’s fanbase with open arms, but the reality is it was anything but.
At the time, Salford was operated on nearly a strictly volunteer basis. The ticket takers, concession stand workers, groundskeepers, all worked for free. They did it out of a love for the local eighth division club. They were proud of who the club was.
Suddenly five people, who just happened to have won numerous Premier League trophies, numerous FA Cups, as well as the UEFA Champions League were taking over the club. These are players who were used to football being played, and run, a certain way and now wanted to establish that at the club that they owned. There is a great documentary series that chronicles their journey into ownership. Class of 92: Out of their League (also available on Netflix) shows the story of the takeover and really dives into the different personalities of the owners that not only made them great footballers but shows how that translates in how they tackle ownership. It’s a great watch.
Hostility arose when the players took over the team. The fans took pride in the fact that this was a fan run club. They compared the Class of ’92’s takeover to that of a foreign investor who takes over a Premier League team and completely disregards local traditions. That’s not who they wanted to be.
With all this hostility, it certainly didn’t help that shortly into their ownership tenure the Class of ’92 sold 50 percent of their sake to Peter Lim, a businessman from Singapore, quite literally a foreign investor.
On the surface, the fans of Salford City F.C. were very happy with what they were. A town that voluntarily contributed to their club and didn’t expect much. The owners, or the Class of ’92, however had much different ambitions. They wanted to take this semi-pro club and turn them into a fully professional Football League club.
Naturally, there was hostility at first. For starters, the Class of ’92 knew diddly squat about owning a football club and would have to learn on the fly. The community, which had kept the club afloat for years, were worried that the new owners would outsource everything and make the club foreign to them. This was a happy-go-lucky community club, now they suddenly had owners who had ambitions of playing in the Championship, the second division of English soccer within 15 years. If that was going to happen, things would have to change and what would happen to the people of Salford.
Things were put to bed early. Under new ownership, the team won their first eight games. Stadium upgrades were made, but instead of bringing in volunteers, Gary Neville hired the Salford fans who used to volunteer to actually work on the stadium maintenance.
Things wouldn’t remain rosy, though. Despite the great start, the team took a nose-dive in the late fall. By early February, manager Phil Power, a man who grew up and gave his life to Salford, was sacked. Things were looking bleak.
But the longer the Class of ’92 took a stronger hold of the club, things have gotten better. They righted themselves that season, winning the league and earning promotion to the 7th division in the Class of ’92’s first year of ownership. The following year, they won the league again, moving up to the 6th division.
Last season, their promotion run came to an end, but it wasn’t an unsuccessful season. The team didn’t finish towards the bottom of the table or even in the middle of the table. They lost in the semi-finals of the promotion playoffs. During the offseason, ownership was able to convert both the coaching staff and players from semi-pros to full time professionals. While there’s still a lot of football to be played this season, Salford are four points clear at the top of the National League North table, looking to earn promotion into the National Conference, the fifth division of English football and highest non-league division in England.
Most importantly, the new ownership has kept the community involved in the team. They don’t outsource any of their work. All the stadium maintenance is done by long-time Salford fans, the difference is that they are now paid as opposed to doing it voluntarily.
When the owners started, part-owner Phil Neville said the goal was to be playing in the Championship within 15 years. Based on results this season, the team may be able to move from the 8th division to the 5th in just four years. At that rate, they could make the Championship in just eight years.
That may not feasible but with success like that, who’s to say it won’t take 10-12 years? And with the Class of ’92, a group that achieved so much, who’s to say that won’t happen?