Ferdinand fast escaping from arms of big brother

West Ham's Anton Ferdinand is keen to emulate his sibling Rio, the England centre-back. He talked to Jason Burt
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The Independent Online

There's a patch of grass between the redbrick, four-storey tenements of the Friary Estate in Peckham, south-east London, that will forever be known as Wembley. It was christened as such a dozen years ago by Anton Ferdinand and his older brother, Rio. It was there that they acted out their dreams of being professional footballers - Anton, then in midfield, Rio, six years older, marshalling the defence.

Dreams, naturally, loomed large in the young lives of the Ferdinands as they navigated through what is regarded as one of the country's most impoverished areas. Curfews were set by their concerned parents - and they were strictly adhered to. "At the time I wanted to be out with my friends, but they didn't want it that way," Anton recalls. "I like to think that's what helped me and my brother get where we are."

Rio, of course, is now Britain's most expensive footballer. His brother, following in his footsteps at West Ham United, Rio's first club, is attempting to establish himself. "My aim this season is to be a first-team regular," Anton says as he sits in the lunchtime sun at West Ham's Chadwell Heath training ground. Tomorrow against Wigan Athletic he will hope to make his first start of the season, having come on as second-half substitute in the midweek victory over Reading in the Championship "From that I can gain more confidence," Ferdinand says.

Not that he lacks it. Dreams, for the Ferdinands, were not just contained to their imagination, their hopes. Their dreams were nurtured by their mother, Janice, and father, Julian, who were constantly protective of what might happen to the boys if they strayed in the streets around their flat in Gisburne House.

At first Ferdinand appears a typical 19-year-old cutting his career. It was always "football, football, football", he says. "I used to go to my friend's house, a guy called Osman, he lived below us and I'd eat Turkish food with him and watch videos of Maradona and Roberto Baggio." He would then join Rio on the barren patch that was Wembley and then, when he was older, follow his brother again, playing games at the adventure playground on Peckham Park Road.

But it was not just football. Anton loves horses. And music. The latter passion he shares with Rio - "we used to sing together," Ferdinand says, "he used to think he could". Indeed Rio once appeared in the school musical, Bugsy Malone, and talks of it with pride. But Anton's music is more serious. He, genuinely, has a good voice. Pursuing a professional career was discussed with Julian, a tailor by trade. "I wanted to be a singer but I sat down and he said you might as well have a go at football first," Ferdinand recalls. "He said you can always do singing after football." He likes the idea of eventually following another footballer, Everton's Kevin Campbell, who is realising his dream by setting up his own record label.

Not that Ferdinand has stopped singing. It's his release from the pressures of football. Afternoons, spilling into evenings, are spent with his friends, many of whom he grew up with in Peckham, writing songs, improvising, playing music, mainly R&B. One of those friends is Marvin Humes. "And now he's in a band that's just coming up called VS," reveals Ferdinand with pride. The band is managed by Simon Webbe, himself in the group Blue. A second single is due out on 20 September. "We sometimes write," says Ferdinand, who fancies himself as a lyricist but admits it's a talent he may not truly possess. "It takes my mind off football when I need to," he says. As does listening to Usher, Musiq soulchild, Boyz II Men.

Back in the days in Gisburne House, Ferdinand noticed, nearby, a stable. "No fields, just a stable and I used to go past there, trying to look at the horses and that," he says. He was fascinated. Again his parents took note. For his ninth birthday Ferdinand was taken to the Southborough Lane Stables, near Bromley, by his father. "Finally I got to ride a horse," he says. Ferdinand went more and more often. "When it wasn't football, it was horses. When I didn't have a game it was always horses. I'd spend a lot of time at the stables, just relaxing. I still do. To them I'm Anton the horse-rider, not Anton who's trying to make it in football." He doesn't own any horses yet. He wants to "stay focused" on his football and would only want to be a horse-owner if he devoted the time needed. "I'd like to own my own yard one day," he muses. The horses, like the football, like the music "kept me off the street and my mum and dad were glad. They wanted me to do those things as it meant I definitely wasn't hanging about with the wrong people."

Gradually the football took over. Ferdinand, who was yesterday included in the England Under-21 squad for Tuesday's friendly international against Ukraine at the Riverside, has been attached to West Ham since he was eight - ironically longer than his older brother who, as a boy, started with Queen's Park Rangers. But they were both identified by the same coach, Dave Goodwin, with Anton also receiving encouragement from one of Rio's friends, Gavin Rose, who ran the adventure playground. Again, it provided the support to keep him clear of trouble.

"Quite a few of us came out of Peckham to become footballers," Ferdinand says. His peers include Paul Robinson at Millwall and Charlton Athletic's Lloyd Sam.

Not that he wanted to escape. "People think only bad things once you say the name Peckham," he says. "But not all of it is like that." Ferdinand is keen - like his brother, who this week was in Southwark to publicise the youth games, who represents the Prince's Trust and made an appeal to find the killers of Damilola Taylor - to stay involved. "I'll never forget where I came from," Ferdinand says. "My mum and dad [who eventually split up] have brought me up to be like that and we still have got family there. Obviously when you live there, and things happen, it's an everyday thing. You don't think any different." He goes into local schools, gives talks, answers questions and is pleased when his autograph is asked for. Not for vanity, but because it shows someone from Peckham "is doing well. Hopefully, when I have established myself properly I can do more of that," he says.

Inevitably, Ferdinand admits, at present he is still regarded as Rio's younger brother - even if "because the age difference between us is quite big" - it is less of an issue than it could have been. Nevertheless, the resemblance, the speech, even the way he runs is uncanny.

"Now if he was still at the same club and I was pushing to get a first-team place it might be a different case," Ferdinand says. "There would be more comparisons going on and perhaps people saying that I was only there because of my brother. But it was never like that. When he was in the first-team I was a YTS. He went to Leeds [United] in the last year when I was a schoolboy."

Inevitably, the subject of Rio's eight-month ban, for failing to attend a drugs test, comes up. "He's training and looking forward to getting back," Ferdinand says. "Rio's attitude is that when his mind is set on something, that's what he's set on. Even though he can't play, he wants to help the boys [team-mates at Manchester United] by showing that he will put 100 per cent into his training." Indeed Sir Alex Ferguson, at the weekend, praised Rio's attitude. He trained throughout the summer.

"And I know he can't wait to play again," Anton says. "When the thing that you love to do has been taken away from you then that is gutting. He's mentally strong anyway but this might make him even stronger. We'll see when he comes back." That day is less than two months away now. "He's still the same person," Ferdinand says. "Rio will never change. We just have to wait for him to come back so he can let people know, and hopefully England know, what they have been missing." It is said defiantly and with understandable brotherly pride.

Rio will not be the only Ferdinand with the determination to succeed this season. His brother feels it is time he began to secure his place, even though he made 26 appearances last season. Perhaps that's because he's mindful that Rio was earning rave reviews at 18 and that, as the West Ham manager, Alan Pardew, explains, Anton may have the same "attributes" as his brother but still lacks concentration. That will come. "The way people look at it is if you're good enough, you're old enough," Ferdinand says. "And there's plenty of players around my age who are playing, who take that kind of pressure." His favoured position, like his brother, is central defender although he is being used as a right back as well.

The crushing disappointment of losing last May's play-off final is behind him, partly eradicated by a summer spent whizzing round the theme parks of Florida. Another season in the Football League - even if it doesn't offer the "thinking game" he feels that is the Premiership - starts with West Ham's squad bolstered by the arrival of old heads such as Teddy Sheringham and Sergei Rebrov. "We've got a good squad," Ferdinand says.

"I like to think I coped well with Premiership sides and that's, obviously, where I want to play with West Ham," Ferdinand says. "I've got time on my side, I'm just 19, but I want to get there as quickly as I can." As does his club. The message from Pardew, Ferdinand reveals, is clear. "Make sure we come off the pitch with no regrets," he says.

If West Ham do return to the Premiership, Ferdinand will get that chance to compete against his brother. "I was on the bench at Manchester United [two seasons ago]," Ferdinand recalls. "But Rio was injured." When they finally share the turf again it will be a great moment for his parents. "My parents have seen us grow up and do what we really wanted to do," Ferdinand says. "Our way of thanking them is to show we're working hard for them as they did for us." That is plain for all to see. And one day it may just happen at that other Wembley.

Oh brother football's most famous fraternal partnerships

Jack and Bobby Charlton

World Cup winners. Bobby was the golden boy, Jack the late developer uncapped until he was 29. Later, Jack twice took Ireland to the World Cup, while Bobby became a Manchester United figurehead.

Gary and Phil Neville

Both defenders (pictured), both part of the generation that emerged at Manchester United in the early 1990s. Both have become England internationals, though Phil was left out of the last two squads for major championships.

Michael and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Played together for Bayern Munich and West Germany, though Karl-Heinz was the more lauded. Now, Karl-Heinz is chairman of the board at Bayern Munich, while Michael runs coaching clinics.

Frank and Ronald De Boer

Barcelona paid $22m for the twins, who were recruited by Ajax aged 12 and turned professional in 1987. They were in the Dutch team who finished fourth in the 1998 World Cup.

Danny, Rod and Ray Wallace

In 1989-90 for the first time in 68 years three brothers played together in the same league side. The team was Southampton and the brothers were Danny, Rod and Ray Wallace.

Dean and David Holdsworth

Dean and David have played together for two different clubs, Watford and Bolton. A member of the famous "crazy gang", Dean arrived at Wimbledon in 1992. However, it wasn't until he played for Bolton, in 1997, that the pair first played against each other.Dean has since written a children's book about the exploits of two footballing brothers.

Michael and Brian Laudrup

Michael and Brian, graced a succession of skilful Denmark sides for close to two decades from the mid-1980s onwards. Michael reached his peak in the 1986 World Cup where Denmark famously beat Uruguay 6-1. Their father also played for Denmark in 1966-73.

Jostein and Tore Andre Flo

Jostein and Tore Andre are the most famous of five footballing brothers from the village of Stryn, Norway. They played for Sheffield United and Chelsea respectively. They were part of the 1998 World Cup squad that beat Brazil to reach the second round.

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