Despite an age-gap of almost seven years and the north-south divide that has continued with Rio crossing the Pennines to Manchester, the bond between the brothers has remained unbreakable. Listen to Roger Cross, West Ham's chief scout: "When Anton played his first FA Cup tie for us, away to Wolves two seasons ago, I was sitting up in the stand and Rio was there. As the teams ran out, I looked across and Rio had tears coming down his face, he was so proud. We won 3-1, though we were a division below Wolves at the time, and Alan Pardew asked me to bring Rio down to the dressing room afterwards. Then last month when we played at Manchester City I was sitting behind him again and he was watching Anton and constantly asking me how he was doing, was he doing this and doing that? It's a wonderful, wonderful friendship."
It seems always to have been so, despite the occasional tensions of growing up as children of a mixed-marriage on the south-east London estate where Damilola Taylor was murdered in 2000, seven years after Rio's school friend Stephen Lawrence had been stabbed to death at a bus-stop in Eltham. Rio played for a Sunday team, Eltham Town, whose Under-14 manager Peter Cordwell remembers "a very elegant central midfield player, keen on dancing, which I think helped his fantastic balance".
Dave Goodwin was his manager in the Blackheath district team and became a close confidant, with the result that the boy who would become Britain's most expensive footballer might have escaped West Ham's clutches altogether and started at Middlesbrough. "I knew Lennie Lawrence from Charlton," said Goodwin, "and when he went to Middlesbrough I started working for him. Rio went round lots of clubs, including QPR and Norwich, and it came down to a straight choice between Middlesbrough and West Ham. He said Middlesbrough because I was there but I told him not to make that a factor and got Frank Lampard snr to talk to him. So he opted for West Ham."
That in turn made Anton's chosen path easier, though having a brother who soon became famous could have made his footballing and personal life difficult. Everyone at Blackheath Bluecoat, the Church of England school that both attended, was impressed by how he responded. Maths teacher Ken Cassidy says: "Rio had always been popular with students and staff, though the final year of his GCSEs was a bit of a strain on him with a lot of training and matches as well as exams. Anton handled his brother's subsequent fame very well. Obviously there were comparisons but he did his own thing. He never played on Rio's fame, rather it made him more mature and level-headed."
Football coaches were equally impressed. Anton trained at West Ham's school of excellence in Beckenham with Kieran Richardson, now of Manchester United, and Goodwin believes him to have been a more complete footballer than Rio at the same age: "Although Rio had the elegance and technique, Anton would have had better stats on tackling and headers won. But he did have a forgetful streak. Before a London game against Middlesex once they were warming up in sweat-tops and Anton insisted someone had pinched his shirt. We ran all the way back to the dressing room while they held up the kick-off and found it on his clothes hook. He'd just forgotten to put it on!" He is unlikely to make the same mistake with a drugs test.
An occasional lack of concentration has been a criticism aimed at both Ferdinands and it was a fault that the West Ham coaches had to work on once Anton put his doubts and his singing behind him to win a YTS scholarship under the admired Academy director Tony Carr and then a professional contract. "There's an old saying of Ron Greenwood's that I used to quote to Anton," says Cross: "It was 'lively mind, lively body'. Thinking and concentrating the whole time. Being aware of where your centre-forward is in relation to where the ball is. If your body shape's not right, they'll lose you and that's how goals come about. And his concentration levels have improved fantastically."
Central defence is where both brothers are to be found these days, though most who have coached Rio believe he could easily be the holding midfielder England lack. Anton first played for West Ham at right-back, once they were relegated two years ago, but that was simply to get him into the team. Established now as a centre-half for the England Under-21s, he dreams of appearing for the full international side, with or without his brother. Last weekend he reached one milestone, heading the equaliser at Tottenham in added time for a first Premiership goal, and this afternoon will be another, whatever the result. Corner-kicks at either end of the pitch should be fun as well.
Replay: 1965: A spot of bother for the Charltons
When the Ferdinand brothers meet at Upton Park today, they can expect a more cordial family reunion than 40 years ago when Manchester United's Bobby Charlton went head to head with his brother Jack, of Leeds United.
While their trans-Pennine rivals were flying high, Leeds were just emerging as a footballing force under manager Don Revie. He had taken over in 1961 and pulled the club back from the brink of sinking into Division Three while picking up a reputation for hard tackling and gamesmanship.
After winning the Second Division Championship in 1964, Leeds embarked on a 25-game unbeaten run in the First Division that took them to the top of the League. The sequence included a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford with Bobby Collins scoring -and kicking George Best in the tunnel.
That run was brought to an end by United at Elland Road in April. The 1-0 defeat effectively cost Leeds the title as United went on to win it on goal difference on the last day of the season.
The Charlton siblings had by then already battled it out in an infamous FA Cup semi-final in a mudbath at Hillsborough on 27 March 1965. The Times described the match as follows: "This angry, shabby affair of naked intimidation and moments of physical violence should be held up as a permanent warning to all those who bow to mammon at the expense of ethical standards."
Leeds had failed to win a single Cup match in 10 years between 1953 and 1962. This was the biggest match in their history.
Billy Bremner scythed down Bobby Charlton in the opening minutes, prompting him to wag his finger in protest. On the hour-mark, Denis Law blocked Jack Charlton, who ripped Law's shirt to shreds as punches flew and a mass brawl ensued.
With little in the way of football on display, the game was drawn 0-0. Leeds won the replay 1-0 at the City Ground, Bremner scoring two minutes from the end to send his team into their first final.
The Charltons were on opposite sides again in the Cup semi-final of 1970. It took two replays to decide the winners this time, Leeds prevailing 1-0 at Burnden Park after two goalless draws.
Andrew TongReuse content