Monday 24 July 2017

Brothers stay loyal to their family values

Rio and Anton Ferdinand have come a long way together, writes Jamie Jackson

In the bar of a Kampala hotel in June 2007, Rio Ferdinand, his father Julian, and a cousin, Max, watched as a television beamed pictures of Anton Ferdinand smacking the 31st penalty of a marathon shoot-out against the bar.

England's under 21s were eliminated from the European Championship when Holland converted the next kick to go through to the final and, as Anton was consoled on a distant field in the Netherlands, his elder brother, dad and cousin were unswerving in their support thousands of miles away in Uganda.

Here was an illustration of the familial bond that has helped take the Ferdinands into football's elite.

The alleged racism case involving comments made by John Terry to Anton is still being investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service but early last month Rio offered support to his younger brother when he hinted that the English FA were not offering firm enough leadership in the matter.

It was during the furore regarding whether England players could wear poppies for the friendlies with Spain and Sweden and Rio, the elder by seven years, tweeted: 'Powers that be do make stands on certain issues I see,' accompanied by the hashtag 'selective'.

Though they come from a large family, with three half-sisters on their father's side and a half-brother and half-sister who are their mother's, Rio and Anton were close even before football was on the horizon.

Anton often accompanied Janice, their mother, when she collected her elder son from the Central School of Ballet in London's Clerkenwell. "Anton was too small, the little one who was dragged along by mum to pick up Rio," says Cecilia Darker, who taught the future United and England captain how to pirouette.

"There were three boys, [all from] Rio's school who came three times a week: a Vietnamese boy called Quang, lovely Rio and Wayne, who was a bit naughty. So there were three Peckham boys with all the little ballet girls of Islington and Hackney and it worked beautifully.

"There was a Russian teacher who took no nonsense and she had these boys standing there in tights doing ballet. My job was creative dance and we had fun doing a Vampire's Ball, in which they used what they learned in the ballet lessons, where they would jump high and land softly. Rio loved this and was well into it. He was also a bit of an actor. I remember Rio having particularly long and perfect ballet legs so he could jump really high. He did really love it.

"At the end of the year we had the [meeting] where mums would come and chit-chat, and his mum said: 'Oh, I don't know what to do because he's got a football trial'. I said: 'I think you should go for the football because there is a lot more dollars in the footie than there would be in the ballet'. I remember his mum showing up with this sort of squiggly thing and Rio would say: 'Oh God, where is he? Where's Anton?' Then he'd say: 'Sorry miss, what were you saying?'

"There was a girl in class called Josephine who I bumped into a few years ago. She said: 'We did a [routine] and I was Rio's partner.'

"There was Rio with little Josephine doing this dance that comes from Swan Lake -- all bowing and curtseying. She said: 'I've got it on video somewhere'."

A highlights reel of the two as footballers would show Rio as the Rolls-Royce, purring through the seasons, while Anton is the Volvo, a solid professional who learned the game from the brother he followed at the 2002 World Cup in Japan wearing a 'Rio 05' shirt.

In a garlanded career, Rio, 33, has won the Champions League, five Premier League titles, two Carling Cups and 81 England caps and has been to four World Cups. Anton has a Championship play-off final victory and an FA Cup loser's medal on his CV.

Both began their careers at West Ham United where Harry Redknapp, then the manager, recalls: "Anton was a schoolboy so we used to see him all the time, he used to come training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The mum is a big supporter of the boys, she brought them up fantastic -- they're from a tough area in south London but she's brought them up to be good boys. She takes a lot of credit for their development."

Anton followed Rio and signed for West Ham while attending Blackheath Bluecoat Church of England school, as his elder sibling had done. "They were both extremely passionate during their physical education lessons and were natural leaders even at a young age," says Steve Sallis, the school's sports coordinator.

"It was clear to see from as early as Year Seven that both would be involved in sport and fortunately both of them fulfilled their potential to make the grade in something they aspired to. Both still stay in touch with teachers and Anton visits regularly to [see] pupils and mentor them."

At West Ham, Tony Carr, the academy director, was the brothers' teacher and guide: "Anton would come to the training sessions with his mum and basically watch until he was such an age that he could start training. Rio was always the standout talent and it was a bit harder for Anton to try and replicate his brother's achievement.

"But he's done very well for himself -- it helped him soaking up the atmosphere at a big club like West Ham so that when we signed him he knew everyone.

"Family support is vital to any footballer who wants to make it in the Premier League. When Rio moved on to Leeds United [in November 2000] and then Manchester United [two years later] and we were playing reserve-team games in the north or the Midlands in the evenings, he would always come and watch and give Anton support and say hello to us in the dressing room. He would say to me: 'How's Anton doing? What does he need to do to improve? Do you think he's going to go all the way?'

"They were always a very close and caring family, no doubt about that. That's helped both of them to stay as grounded as they are. It's a fantastic achievement for anyone to be a Premier League player."

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