Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

The time Leeds United's 'Class of 93' got the better of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers

Former player Steve Tobin looks back on the time when the Yorkshire club outfoxed Manchester United's acclaimed youngsters

Steve Tobin in action for Leeds United. He was part of the side that won the 1993 FA Youth Cup. Alamy
Steve Tobin in action for Leeds United. He was part of the side that won the 1993 FA Youth Cup. Alamy

Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were members of the best youth team in the land, the so-called ‘Class of 92’ a tag line which celebrates their victory in the FA Youth Cup of that year.

All of them now have a share in the ownership of Salford City who play Leeds United on Tuesday night in the League Cup in the highest profile game yet in the club's history.

But United’s stellar youth side did not have it all their own way, and it has largely been forgotten that they were beaten by Leeds United’s youth side in the 1993 final.

What has happened to Leeds ‘Class of 93’? The National caught up with one of them, Steve Tobin. Despite the fierce cross Pennine rivalry between the two Uniteds, Steve was a Mancunian.

“I spent time training with United and City but one of my dad’s friends knew a Leeds United scout,” explains the 43-year-old. “At 13 I went on trial there and was successful before signing schoolboy terms.

Leeds United celebrate with the FA Youth Cup in May 1993. Getty
Leeds United celebrate with the FA Youth Cup in May 1993. Getty

"My dad would drive us to Leeds twice a week in his old car. That car had broken down before one trial at Oldham Athletic, which I missed.

"We’d stop for a cheese and ham butty just outside Leeds. My dad was completely dedicated to helping me with my football. He needed to be because there was a lot of driving.”

Leeds’ first team were in the second division when Tobin joined but they won promotion and then beat Manchester United to the Division One title in 1992.

“As an apprentice I was a ball boy to the champions and I would clean Gary McAllister’s boots,” says Tobin. “Gary was superb with me, he’d take time out to talk to me about my football.

"Gordon Strachan and Rod Wallace were very helpful too. Gary Speed was also friendly, Chris Fairclough would be the one who made sure we stayed on the straight and narrow.”

Tobin did well and was awarded a two-year professional contract with the champions of England in 1992.

“I was on £120 (Dh530) a week but when I became a professional the first team bonus sheet was included with my wage packet,” he explains.

“It had figures which were astronomical to me, £1,500 per appearance. It was designed to make you want to be a first team player.

"I lived in digs where the landlady made me huge meals which I didn't think any human could eat. After hard training sessions I began to eat them all.”

The FA Youth Cup was the most prestigious competition for his age group and Leeds set their sights on it.

“We’d been knocked out by Oldham Athletic in the 1992 which was a surprise, but the second year players were not as strong as our year,” said Tobin.

They started the 1992-93 tournament on a roll, with Tobin playing just behind the forwards and scoring in every round of their Cup run.

Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday away, with goals from Tobin and Jamie Forrester.

Tobin and Forrester both were on the scoresheet as Stoke City were hammered 6-2 in the next round, as was Noel Whelan.

The Leeds boys racked up some big scores, beating Queens Park Rangers 5-1.

But Sheffield United gave them more problems, and it took a replay to get past them to meet Norwich in the semi final.

“Norwich away was probably my best game,” said Tobin, who was on target again. “Our manager Paul Hart was very complimentary to me and Leeds had reached the FA Youth Cup final for the first time.

"Then we knew we’d play Manchester United in the final and we were told that United had a few lads who played for England with our lads Jamie Forrester and Kevin Sharp – who’d joined us from Auxerre.”

In between, Tobin played for Leeds reserves at Notts County.

“I had a little bit of an altercation with Paul Hart,” he explains. “I hit a long ball to put a player in. He expected me to run and support the forwards. I didn’t agree.

"Mervyn Day, another coach, said ‘You were right what you said but it was the way you said it.’ He was right. It looked like I had a bad attitude.”

Tobin believes this is why he was dropped for the first leg of the final at Old Trafford.

“Paul might say it was tactical, but I’d played in every game and scored. I was gutted to be sub at Old Trafford. It’s three miles from my house and lots of my friends and family were there, but it was probably my fault.”

The crowd was vast.

“Nobody knew how many people would show but Old Trafford kept filling up, Tobin recalls. "They had to keep opening new sections. The crowd was 36,000 and the ground only held 44,000."

Manchester United were favourites, but goals from Forrester and Whelan gave Leeds a 2-0 victory.

Hart stuck with a winning team for the second leg, in front of another huge crowd of 31,037.

Leeds went 1-0 ahead after 12 minute through Forrester, but Scholes equalised with a penalty after winger Keith Gillespie was fouled.

But a Matthew Smithard effort moments later put Leeds back ahead and they went on to win 4-1 on aggregate against a side which included both Neville brothers, Scholes, Beckham, Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley and current Salford City director of football, Chris Casper.

Tobin didn’t miss out entirely. “I came off the bench in that game but the announcer got my name wrong.

"My mates still call me the name of the other sub. I conceded a foul by barging into Gary Neville. When we went into Leeds that night we were treated like royalty. I thought that I would become a professional footballer that night.

“We’d heard that the Man United players had been given a gold watch for winning it the previous year and we were excited about our prize. Except Leeds told us they didn’t believe in any prizes apart from the medal we got from the FA. I still have mine and cherish it.”

Unlike his counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson, first team manager Howard Wilkinson was later criticised for not bringing through those promising youngsters. Only Whelan was given sustained chances.

“Howard was always good to me,” Tobin says. “I used to wash his car and collect his golf balls. He told me to read a book on Kenny Dalglish, he tried to help me.

"But he probably needed instant success and went with experienced players rather than young ones. Man United have always given young players a chance, Leeds didn’t have a history of doing that.”

Tobin went on the pre-season with the first team and made his debut.

“I was trying too hard but it went well,” he said. “Imagine training every day with the effortless Eric Cantona. He always liked me because I’d checked he was OK when he got on the coach to a reserve team game after he had just signed.

"He was sitting on the coach by himself. Eric gave me his boots and, stupidly, I left them on a bus going to college.

“I would get frustrated if things weren’t going well and I was taken off in games.

"After one training session where I stormed off, I was called back to Leeds and told that they didn’t have a place for me. The assistant manager told me that Blackpool wanted me, but my head had gone.

“I was professional, I didn’t drink. But I was naturally unfit – I’d had bad asthma as a kid, like Scholes - and had to work twice as hard just to stay at an average level. But maybe I should have kept my mouth shut a bit more.”

Those Manchester United youth players went onto earn 305 international caps between them. Five of the Leeds players were in the England team which won the under 18s European championships in 1993 but didn’t win a single cap. Tobin never went on to play league football.

“My head was muddled for a couple of years after I was let go by Leeds. I was with Stockport, Macclesfield Town, Witton Albion. I was a professional footballer and we won the conference with Macclesfield.

"Then I became a semi-professional footballer and started working in a warehouse too. You could hear ever word from the fans in non-league.”

Tobin’s former club play at Salford City now face Leeds, who are in the Championship.

Newly promoted to the Football League after four promotions in five years, it’s the biggest ever game for the side from Greater Manchester.

Tobin will be close by, coaching children in conjunction with non-league side Trafford FC.

“I love it,” he says. “My love for football wobbled at times, but it never went away.”

Updated: August 13, 2019 04:24 PM

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