Sibling rivalry comes to Brum

Craig & Gary Gardner

While Bobby and Jack Charlton may have won the World Cup together, at club level they played on opposite sides of the track.

The former was Manchester United’s standout player from mid-1950s up until 1973, which was also the year older brother Jack retired after spending his entire career with cross-Pennine rivals Leeds United.

Both players are legends at their respective former clubs, although, it should be noted, the two Uniteds themselves are intense rivals.

The Roses derby, as it is often nicknamed, originates from the strong enmity between the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, with the hostilities between the pair evident on the football pitch.

For three decades the Charlton brothers were vital parts of the derby matches, which became particularly intense towards the latter part of their careers as hooliganism reared its ugly head.

While football-related violence has been quashed over the decades, there was a so-called ‘return to the dark ages’ recently.

The English League Cup quarter-finals brought together second city rivals Aston Villa and Birmingham City at the latter’s St. Andrews stadium.

Flares were flung, the pitch was invaded and seats were torn up, drawing attention away from a famous night for Birmingham.

Although Sebastian Larsson and Nikola Zigic scored the all-important goals in the Blues’ 2-1 victory, it was Craig Gardner’s driving spirit that helped spur them on.

The game capped a memorable week for the midfielder, who now looks set to tread in the Charltons’ illustrious footsteps by pitting his wits against his brother.

Few siblings have played for rival clubs since the Charltons, although the emergence of younger brother Gary Gardner looks set to change that.

Gary has signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract with Villa and is close to returning to action after a long-term cruciate ligament injury.

“For the family, it has been an unbelievable week with Gary signing the new deal at Villa [as well as my successes],” said Gardner senior a few days after the Cup win.

“He has done well, he totally deserves everything he gets out of the game.

“Gary did the injury 10 months ago and has come back strong now, and his attitude has been spot on.

“He is a born winner and fingers crossed we will see him sooner rather than later in the Premier League and playing against me. That would be special.”

Despite being a self-confessed “bluenose”, Craig also made his breakthrough with Villa.

After making his first-team debut in 2005 he went onto make 80 appearances in all competitions for the Villa Park side, before completing a GBP3million-plus deal to join Birmingham earlier this year.

Now, 18-year-old Gary has set his sights on emulating his brother’s success with Villa, although do not expect him to switch allegiance as well.

“I set my heart on playing for Villa a long time ago and words can’t describe how I feel,” said Gary after penning the new deal. “It’s unbelievable.

“The likes of Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan, Eric Lichaj and Chris Herd have all played in the first team this season.

“I remember my brother, Craig, Gary Cahill, Peter Whittingham and Gabby Agbonlahor all breaking through from the Villa academy.

“This makes you realise what’s possible to achieve and I want to push on and work even harder to try to follow some of those lads.

“I’ve been at Villa since I was six years old and my focus is on continuing to improve and continuing to progress.”
In new Villa boss Gerard Houllier, there are few better mentors for the younger Gardner brother.

“Gary is a young player with potential and a desire to succeed and the contract he has just signed is a sign that we trust him to be a player for the future,” said the Frenchman.

“We’re delighted that Gary has joined players such as Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan and Ciaran Clark who have all signed new deals recently and we are encouraged by their progression.”

Should he progress anywhere near as well his fellow academy graduates, expect the Gardners to cross swords in a second city derby sooner rather than later.


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