The forgotten story of… England's class of '93
Knowledge is power, but it also deflowers. Whether it's kids discovering that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy don't exist, adults realising that oodles of cultural capital are useless if you're pathologically incapable of making eye contact with the opposite sex, or John Cusack in High Fidelity working out that women don't always wear exotic underwear, the questionable gift of life is forever peeling away layers of our innocence as we discern that things aren't quite as we liked to imagine when we were younger.
One of the saddest revelations for football fans is that youthful talent will invariably fail to fulfil its potential. The poignant case of Michael Owen, who in St Etienne in 1998 looked like he would rule the world forever more, has made us all vividly aware of this.
It feels like that was not always the case. When England hosted and won the Uefa Under-18 European Championships in 1993 under the managership of Ted Powell, they did so with such panache and charm that it was easy to let the imagination run wild as we envisioned what these players might ultimately achieve. When Sammy Chapman, the Leicester youth development officer, told us that the star of the tournament, Julian Joachim, "will develop into one of the best forwards England have ever seen," there was no reason not to believe him.
The tournament was a triumph, not least because of, as Bill Brewster noted in When Saturday Comes, "the rarity of seeing so much bright football in a cynic-free zone". It was all done and dusted within eight days, a quickie that stimulated both body and mind.
That group of players are now coming towards the end of their careers. And while five of them – Nicky Butt, Sol Campbell, Robbie Fowler, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes - played for England, the majority of the 16-man squad inevitably didn't make it. One of their number, Chris Casper, played his last game at 24 because of injury and was manager of Bury at 30.
Over half the squad came from the two Uniteds of Manchester and Leeds. Old Trafford's 'Alan Hansen Generation' were the most-hyped crop of youngsters since the Busby Babes, but Leeds hammered them 4-1 over two legs in the FA Youth Cup final a couple of months earlier. Hindsight highlights a notable omission from the England squad: David Beckham had already made his first-team debut for United, but he simply wasn't good enough for the national side.
The group shimmered with promise. There was Scholes, the most technically accomplished of the lot; Campbell, a boy-mountain who was described in the Guardian as being as "solid as an Ottoman" and who Powell presciently moved into the back four from his usual central-midfield position; the Spurs pair of Chris Day and Darren Caskey, goalkeeper and holding midfielder and both startlingly mature; the Leeds duo of Kevin Sharp and Jamie Forrester, who had excitingly been schooled at the legendary Guy Roux's Auxerre; Kevin Gallen, who had smashed 64 goals for QPR's youth team in 1992-93 and would score eight in one game at the start of the following season; Fowler, who Patrick Barclay, also in this paper, called "balanced, graceful and lethal in front of goal, [he] certainly seems to have the equipment".
Fowler was the tournament's top scorer with five, but the real star was Joachim, who was tentatively compared to Romario by his club manager, Brian Little, and by Barclay on the day of the final. At the time, such an association was not at all fatuous: they shared that low centre of gravity and ability to burst devastatingly between defenders, as Joachim showed the previous season with a famous goal against Portsmouth in the play-offs. He had scored a very different but even better one against Barnsley in the FA Cup.
England were so blessed with forwards that they used first Scholes (at that stage a bona fide No10 rather than the midfield player we came to know) and then Fowler at the point of their midfield diamond, behind Joachim and either Forrester or Gallen. The midfield consisted of the captain Caskey, a deep-lying playmaker and deceptively tough nut, the Leeds enforcer Mark Tinkler and either Scholes or Butt. Neville and Sharp were the full-backs, with Campbell partnered by Casper, whose leggy grace had brought comparisons with Alan Hansen.
Joachim and Caskey had been in the first XI at the World Youth Cup (an Under-20 tournament) in Australia. Though England reached the semi-finals of that competition, they did so without scoring a single goal from open play, and were widely criticised for their primitive approach. That, and more obviously the hapless struggle of Graham Taylor's national team to qualify for the World Cup, meant English football was at a seriously low ebb. Not only were we inept, we were humdrum too. If Stuart Pearce's team win tonight, it will feel like an affirmation of the progress the senior side are making; in 1993, the opposite was true. The Under-18s did not quite play Total Football, and they were outpassed by France and Turkey, but their urgent, direct - in the best possible sense of the word - game was imbued with genuine quality. Their victory in the tournament was a crucial injection of hope to our increasingly decrepit game.
All four games were shown on Sky, who struck gold with what at first appeared to be little more than a schedule-filler. The tournament gathered little attention at the start. In the Guardian, the opening win over France was only mentioned at the end of a report on Marseille's imminent ban for match-fixing. Yet a week later England were the page lead after beating Turkey in the final. For that first game, at Stoke's Victoria Ground, a decent but not spectacular crowd of 6,756 turned up. A week later, at the City Ground, the kick-off against Turkey was delayed twice because of crowd congestion: the game started 25 minutes late and the eventual attendance was 23,381. The English may love a loser, but they also love vicarious glory.
England were in a group with France (who included future internationals Olivier Dacourt and Martin Djetou, as well as Antoine Sibierski) , Holland (Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Giovanni van Bronckhorst) and Spain (Javi Moreno and Dani), with only the top team going through to the final. They were lucky to win the opening match against France 2-0. Having been outplayed for large parts of the game, England won with goals in the last seven minutes from their two substitutes, Gallen and Fowler, the latter of whom struck an outrageous booming lob from 25 yards with his weaker right foot and then chirpily announced in the post-match interview that he "saw an inch; top corner". Even then, he fused the mischief of Ferris Bueller with the swagger of Liam Gallagher.
Those goals secured a starting berth for Fowler and Gallen, who both scored two days later in a 4-1 spanking of Holland. The other two came from Joachim; his second, a delightful flick and volley, was the goal of the tournament and from the same family tree as Paul Gascoigne's goal against Scotland in 1996.
That left England needing to draw their final game against Spain – again, there was only a two-day gap between matches – to reach the final. Tinkler gave them the lead slightly against the run of play just before half-time, but the real turning point came right after the break: the future Bolton striker Javi Moreno, brought on at half-time, was sent off within three minutes after an extraordinarily moronic contribution.
He was booked after 40 seconds for barging the referee and/or standing on his toes, depending on which report you read, and then he went through Gary Neville with a two-footed challenge and was off. Though Spain equalised after 70 minutes through Carlos Sierra, England went back in front two minutes later and ran amok in the final 10 minutes: Fowler grabbed a hat-trick and Leeds's Forrester, on as a substitute, volleyed the fifth. In between the third and fourth goals, Spain were reduced to nine men when Sierra was sent off for dissent.
That put them through to the final, against the holders Turkey. By now it was big news and England, perhaps conscious of what they were about to achieve, tensed up. Yet they emerged victorious from a scrappy contest thanks to the captain Caskey's 77th-minute penalty. It came, almost inevitably, from the irrepressible Joachim, who roared past a couple of defenders and was taken out.
"Suddenly they are perceived as the future we have craved since 1966," wrote Jon Culley in the Independent. "But how many will grow up to complete the journey?" In a piece for the Guardian later that year, Ian Ridley nominated Joachim and Caskey for his England XI to play at the 1998 World Cup. But of course there wasn't a happy ending; there never is with Golden Generations. Sharp said that he never spoke to some of his colleagues again after that night. So it is with young talent. The road to greatness is littered with detritus; as Cyril Connolly wrote, "Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first call promising."
Joachim had a good-to-middling Premier League career with Leicester and Aston Villa; the Leeds group found that, when the heat was really on, Howard Wilkinson went with experience; Caskey played much of the following season for Spurs under Ossie Ardiles but lost his way when the more pragmatic Gerry Francis took over. Like most of the non-internationals, he now plays non-league football. Forrester, one of the few who still plays in the Football League, went on to set up his own Soccer Academy. Noel Whelan ended up in rehab and then on Celebrity Masterchef.
His goose may have been cooked professionally, as it was for most of his England team-mates, but for eight sun-drenched days they offered the most precious commodity of all: hope. And while the passage of time may take our innocence, the memories remain vividly intact.
The England team for the final against Turkey was Chris Day (then of Tottenham Hotspur; now with Stevenage Borough); Gary Neville (Manchester United/Manchester United), Sol Campbell (Tottenham Hotspur/Portsmouth), Chris Casper (Manchester United/retired), Kevin Sharp (Leeds United/assistant manager at Harrogate Town); Darren Caskey (Tottenham Hotspur/Halesowen Town); Mark Tinkler (Leeds United/Whitby Town), Paul Scholes (Manchester United/Manchester United); Robbie Fowler (Liverpool/North Queensland Fury); Julian Joachim (Leicester City/King's Lynn) and Kevin Gallen (Queens Park Rangers/Luton Town). The other members of the squad were Andy Marshall (Norwich City/left Coventry City this summer), Rob Bowman (Leeds United/retired), Nicky Butt (Manchester United/Newcastle United), Jamie Forrester (Leeds United/Notts County) and Noel Whelan (Leeds United/Harrogate Town).
Copyright - The Guardian