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Competitive both on and off the pitch but nonetheless faithful to each other, Rio and Anton Ferdinand were both siblings and rivals, as Danny Lewis explains.
Rio and Anton Ferdinand may have never played with each other, but their careers epitomise the core values of brotherhood. The public bets between the two shows how competitive they were with each other, while the reaction to the incident involving John Terry’s racist slur towards Anton showed the solidarity the brothers share in tough times.
They both came through the famed academy at West Ham United. However, by the time Anton made his debut for the Hammers in 2003, Rio had already moved to Leeds United and then onto Manchester United. They also narrowly missed each other at Queens Park Rangers, as Rio joined them in 2014, a year after Anton had left the club and taken his career to Turkey. In addition to that, Anton made his England Under 21 debut in 2003, while Rio’s last game for them came in 2000 as he went on to become a mainstay in the national team, racking up a total of 81 England caps while Anton failed to make it into the national team.
Despite this, they did cross paths on the pitch and remain close off it. They played against each other seven times in total during their careers, with Rio winning four times and Anton having three victories. However, one thing that Anton has over his brother is that he managed to score against him, with the goal coming in a 2-1 win for West Ham during the 2007-08 season. Cristiano Ronaldo had scored the opener for Rio’s United side before missing a penalty. Anton then climbed above Darren Fletcher and Wes Brown to head home a Mark Noble corner to equalise in the 77th minute before Matthew Upson headed the winner in the dying moments to hand West Ham the win. Anton actually had a very good record against Rio while at West Ham, as he lost the pair’s first meeting but then won their other three encounters, including the aforementioned game. Despite this record, Rio wasn’t playing in the best of Anton’s victories against Manchester United and probably one of the best of his career, in which Carlos Tevez scored the famous goal which kept West Ham in the Premier League. When Anton left the Hammers his record against his older brother completely unravelled, as he lost the three games he played against him for Sunderland and QPR.
The pair were also competitive when they weren’t facing each other on the pitch. They had bets against each other, with one seeing Anton claim that Rio wouldn’t score in a match between Manchester United and Liverpool during the 2006-07 campaign. With the challenge set, Rio latched onto a poor attempt at a clearance from an injured Jamie Carragher to touch the ball past John Arne Riise and rifle the ball out of Pepe Reina’s reach and into the top corner to put United 2-0 ahead. As well as that, they also had their bet on who would score more Premier League goals in the 2005/06 season but like the other bet it was Rio who won it, with three goals to Anton’s two. Rio apparently placed the trophy provided by Soccer AM in his games room, much to the annoyance of his younger brother.
While they evidently wanted to outdo each other, it was clear that the brothers would stand together if they had issues. When John Terry racially abused Anton in 2012, Rio was the first to back his brother. He spoke out about Terry’s conduct and even years later refused to forgive the former Chelsea and England centre back for what he had done to his brother and the rest of their family. He also refused to speak to childhood friend Ashley Cole after the left back stood up for his team mate Terry in court.
This came at a price for Rio, as he never represented England again after the incident, despite later claiming that he would have been able to play alongside Terry had Roy Hodgson asked him to. Anton also had a hit to his career soon after as he was sent on loan to Bursaspor and then released by QPR to cut costs after relegation. He went to Antalyaspor where he made just three appearances before moving to Reading via a transfer to Police United in Thailand that fell through.
However, since he moved to Southend United in 2016 things have improved for Anton, as he was handed the captaincy along with a new lease of life. He has now made over 50 appearances for the Shrimpers and came out saying that despite wishing he was playing at a higher level he is enjoying football again. Rio on the other hand retired in 2015 after a final season at QPR, ending his career with six Premier Leagues, two League Cups and a Champions League on top of six appearances in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year, a place in the 2007-08 FIFPro World XI and a spot in the English Hall of Fame.
Both ball playing centre halves, there have been similarities in the careers of Anton and Rio Ferdinand as they’ve had their high and low points. Anton may not have reached the heights that his older brother did, but he is fondly remembered by West Ham supporters who he got promoted with through the play-offs in 2004-05, scored an incredible goal against Fulham for (watch it, trust me it’s worth it) and played out his best years in football in front of.
The solidarity the brothers showed at points during their career has been vital in recent times, with the death of Rio’s wife Rebecca in 2015 and their mother Janice in 2017, both to cancer. The pair have earned great respect from those in football and the wider public for how they have carried themselves both on and off the pitch. Rio now does a lot of punditry and Anton is an ambassador for the charity Right to Play, so like their cousin Les Ferdinand, the footballing world will continue to see the Ferdinand brothers for years to come, even when Anton has followed Rio into retirement from playing the game.