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Old 21st September 2017, 15:09   #1
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Default Gary Neville on his new university, Salford City and what comes next for Class of 92

Gary Neville on his new university, Salford City and what comes next for Manchester United's Class of 92

The former United right-back has now branched out into higher education. Where's next for him and his fellow members of the Class of 92?

Mark Critchley Northern Football Correspondent
The Independent Sport
Thursday 21 September 2017 10:51 BST

Not content with being an hotelier, property developer and, of course, a television pundit, Gary Neville is now breaking into the world of higher education. On Wednesday morning, with his brother Phil and Nicky Butt in attendance, the former Manchester United full-back announced UA92 - the Class of 92’s latest project.

UA92 – or ‘University Academy 92’, to give it its full name – will be a university, but one that focuses on the personal development of the individual as much as academic attainment. It is currently at consultation stage but should the proposals come to fruition, the scheme will see its campus built a stone’s throw away from Old Trafford. United themselves and Lancashire County Cricket Club are both supportive of the proposals, which could ultimately see as many as 7,000 students enrolled by 2028.

It is some undertaking for a man who is already very busy. Any more projects and he might “blow up”, Neville jokes, and the move into academia seems a surprising one, but the decision to add this latest project to his intimidating to-do list was inspired by his own development under Sir Alex Ferguson at United.

“The initial idea was thinking about how we can instil our football principles and values into as many people as possible at a young age,” he tells The Independent. “We were at United from the age of 16-21 but in our pre-first team days, we were taught more than football. We were prepared for what came our way in professional football and into our thirties, prepared for life.

“The idea that you go to learn a skill at university and not the character development - personality traits, leadership, being able to self-analyse - it just did not feel that that was what an academic provision was. We wanted to try and do something that would be different.”

It is Neville’s own creation, too. He came up with the initial idea, then fleshed it out in discussions with the rest of the Class of 92 - his brother, Butt, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs - who meet bi-weekly, sometimes bi-monthly, to discuss the group’s current projects and potential new ventures. It is usually then up to Neville to execute them. “We felt passionate about this idea,” he says of UA92. “We thought the potential for 7,000 students to be wandering up and down this Stretford Old Trafford corridor in seven to 10 years is incredible. What a goal.”

The Class of 92’s ambitions are changing Greater Manchester, but they have not been realised without controversy along the way. Earlier this year, his ‘St Michael’s’ plan to redevelop an area of inner-city Manchester had to be revised after the public body Historic England objected to designs that would “affect some of Manchester’s most precious heritage”.

There is also Salford City, the sixth-tier club which has risen up the English league pyramid since the group’s takeover in 2014. The Ammies have enjoyed two promotions in the seasons since and have started the current National League North campaign well too. Football League status always has been the “ambition”, as Neville puts it, and that ambition could well be realised in the next two years.

Yet there have been criticisms of that project too, and as recently as this week. The Manchester FA’s decision to exclusively use Salford’s academy side for their representative county team, rather than source players for a mixed team from various clubs in the area as in the past, has frustrated some in Manchester grassroots football. The Manchester FA themselves point out that all clubs in the area were invited to apply for their youth team to be used, Salford were merely the successful applicants.

“They're 16 year old kids that have been given a chance,” is how Neville sees it. “We chose Salford City, we chose the very roots of the game at Salford and in non-league football,” he says. “We didn't need to, we could've invested higher and accelerated our position into a League One or League Two club in an area that we didn't feel as passionate about.

“We've still got the same volunteers employed within the club as we had three years ago, every single one of them is still there. Our season ticket holders, of the original 30 or 40 we lost around 5 or 6, but generally the fan base has grown from averaging 150 a season to 1,200-1,300.

“All I see is that when Salford travel to other grounds, the crowds are high. When they come to our ground, they travel well, we look after them, we welcome them to our ground. I don't see the negative, but then you'll always get negative in life unfortunately.”

Such is the Class of 92’s ambition, some have speculated that they could one day have more of a say in the workings of their former club. Neville firmly dismisses such talk as nonsense, but other projects within development, hospitality, education and sports – “the four sectors I always wanted to go into” – should not be ruled out.

“We don't want to stand still,” he says. “We want to try and achieve more than we achieved in our football career - we talk regularly about that, and that's difficult because we did everything we wanted to do.

“We'll not stop until the point whereby we think it's the right thing to do, we've done enough or maybe we're just going to pull back a little bit - but I can't see that happening in the next five, 10 years.

It may be some time before the group hatches another grand plan, though. “I look at things in five, 10 year blocks and for now, we're pretty much set with the football club, with this [UA92], with other things that we're doing. We need to deliver on them now and execute them.”
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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