“You don’t win anything with kids,” Alan Hansen famously said as Manchester United lost 3-1 the opening game of the 1995 season. The kids – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville - would win the League-FA cup double that year and countless honours thereon. Eric Harrison, the driving force behind the ‘Class of 92’ passed away on Wednesday, aged 81.
Eric Harrison had been suffering from mixed dementia for four years now. His daughter recently said, “Sadly, he's not interested in football anymore which was obviously the main part of his life. He will still say footballers' names - he will go through his teams and what he called his boys - but I don't think he will know who they are. I think that's all gone now.”
Eric Harrison was one of the key cogs in Sir Alex Ferguson’s resurrection of Manchester United as a premier force in the English League. The 81-year-old was recently awarded an MBE for his services to the game. Harrison played as a wing-half for Halifax in his younger days.
“Eric served United with distinction as a mentor of young players, including a number of prodigies who achieved great success with club and country after graduating to the first team at Old Trafford,” Manchester United said in a statement.
Former Manchester United players and staff have led the tributes to the former youth team coach,Gary Neville posted, “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.”
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
It was Eric Harrison, Sir Alex Ferguson turned to, when he demanded youth players make the grade at Manchester United. Harrison had joined United in 1981 to coach the youth team but it was Ferguson that gave impetus to the club’s youth structure. After signing for United in 1986, Ferguson pulled up Harrison for the poor turnover of youth players in the first team and Eric Harrison retorted that United had one of the poorest scouting networks. Ferguson immediately tripled the scouting network and Eric Harrison launched ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’.
“We’ve lost our mentor, our coach and the man who made us. He taught us how to play, how to never give up. I can still hear him telling me NO MORE HOLLYWOOD PASSES!” Beckham paid tribute on his Instagram page.
Harrison prized hard work over talent in the training ground and youth team games and his approach would see Manchester United reap the rewards in the years to come. No player symbolizes the example of Eric Harrison’s coaching methods like Gary Neville did. “He was nowhere near as talented technically as the other boys,” Eric Harrison would say, but Harrison felt it important that he let the young player know where he stood in relation to the other players, and the amount of work he expected of Gary Neville, in order for the young Mancunian to make the first team.
It was something Gary took to heart. “Eric Harrison took no bull shit. I always felt I had to work extra all the time and harder than anyone else.” Eric Harrison made Gary Neville youth team captain of the side that had the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt among others. It was a nod to Gary’s hard work. Gary Neville would be Manchester United’s first choice right back for a good part of his playing career that lasted 19 years. But being the man he was, it wasn’t something Eric Harrison wanted to take credit for, “I didn’t make him a player, he made himself a player.”
“When I came as manager I was lucky enough to have Eric on the staff as head of youth development, so I got to see the work he did and not just with the Class of 92 but with all the young players,” Sir Alex Ferguson said on Thursday.
Manchester United is famed for blooding youth team members; it’s a legacy that goes back to the ‘Busby Babes’ in the 50s. “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” former manager Sir Matt Busby had said. It was a template for success that Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson would replicate through ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ 26 years later and for that, they would have to thank Eric Harrison.
Sethuraman works as a freelance journalist. He previously worked with Deccan Chronicle for four years.