Legendary Manchester United youth coach Eric Harrison, widely credited for his role in the development of the “Class of '92” along with a host of other young talent, has sadly passed away at the age of 81 following a battle with dementia.
Harrison enjoyed a 15-year playing career in the lower leagues and made over 500 appearances as a wing-half for teams including Halifax Town, Hartlepool, Barrow (twice) and Southport, before finishing his playing days at Scarborough. But that was only just the start.
Following his retirement from professional football, in 1927 he moved into coaching at Everton. Now in his mid-30’s, it wasn’t long before he caught the eye of Manchester United legend Ron Atkinson, who he knew from his days in the RAF football team, and by 1981 he’d joined Manchester United as Youth Team Manager; playing a key role in developing the younger players and preparing them for life in the senior team.
Although Atkinson parted ways with United in 1986, new boss Alex Ferguson decided to keep the Yorkshireman at the club. However, Ferguson was still unhappy about the lack of young players coming through the system and into the senior side, and made this his number on priority, significantly increasing the club's scouting network.
The move proved to be a master-stroke as, under the guidance of Harrison, the “Class of '92’’, also known as ‘Fergie Fledgings’ would emerge into the first team in the early/mid 1990's, with David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt all going on to achieve great things, most notably the historic 'treble' success in the 1998/99 season. United became the first British team to achieve this feat; something that no side has achieved since.
Ever loyal, Scholes, Giggs and (Gary) Neville went on to spend their entire professional careers at Manchester United, with current Wales boss Giggs becoming the most decorated British footballer of all time, not to mention making 963 appearances for The Reds – a club record. Other players developed by Harrison such as Robbie Savage and Keith Gillespie went on to have fairly successful careers elsewhere, despite having failed to make the grade at Old Trafford. Harrison continued in his role at the club until he retired in 2008.
In 2017, he was awarded an MBE for services to football and is fondly remembered by many of his former players and colleagues. Since the announcement of his death, the tributes have been overwhelming. Gary Neville tweeted: ‘We've lost our mentor, our coach and the man who made us’, Ryan Giggs described Harrison as a ‘great, tough coach’ and Sir Alex Ferguson praised his ability to ‘make good human beings’ out of young players, while Phil Neville said he was like a ‘second father.’
The thoughts of everyone at Manchester United will be with Eric's family and friends at this sad time. RIP to a true United great. Xx