Playing the game with sporting brothers in arms

NORMAN GILLER recalls the brothers, including the Charltons and the Bedsers, the Allchurchs and the Underwoods, who have engaged in real competition on the sports field

As one of four brothers, I avidly followed the Milibands’ “psychodrama” this week and wondered how I would have handled being usurped by a younger sibling. I think I would have had a three-stage response: first a sulk, then some private sobs followed by a resigned smile and a shrug.

Had I been David Miliband, I would have joked rather than letting it be seen I was choked. And I would have whispered out of the side of my mouth to Harriet Harman: “He should get his adenoids seen to.”

Oh yes, I was always the witty brother.

Sadly, two of my brothers are no longer with us, but my eldest brother, George, is living in retirement in Cambridgeshire after 35 years as a City of London copper. Definitely the black sheep of the family.

What our poor parents went through, producing a policeman and a journo. They were just relieved none of us became estate agents or, even worse, bankers.

I wonder how many sports editors got their feature writers working on sporting sibling articles as a topical support to the Miliband drama?

Relatively speaking, here’s my offering: the 10 top brothers in British sport over the past half-century or so.

I present them in alphabetical order (argue among yourselves as to who you think I may have left out):

ALLCHURCH, Ivor and Len
Gifted Welsh footballers. Ivor ­ – born in 1929 and the older brother – was the genius of the two, capped 69 times and a scorer of 249 League goals, mainly for Swansea and Newcastle. Winger Len was capped 11 times. Bobby Moore once told me: “Ivor is the most difficult inside-forward I’ve ever had to mark in the League.”

BEDSER, Alec and Eric
Sir Alec, six minutes younger than identical twin brother Eric, was one of England’s finest ever medium-fast bowlers. He took 236 wickets in 51 Tests, and later became a leading administrator. Surrey all-rounder Eric always lived in his shadow without a murmur of complaint. Alec died in April, aged 91, four years after Eric.

When they’d joined Surrey they agreed they both couldn’t be fast bowlers, so they tossed a coin. Alec won and Eric became a spinner. Now why didn’t the Milibands think of that?

BLANCHFLOWER, Danny and Jackie
Danny, born in 1926 and seven years older than Jackie, was the poet of the Tottenham team that became the first 20th Century winners of the League and FA Cup double, 50 years ago this season. Capped 56 times by Northern Ireland.

Defender Jackie had his career cut short by injuries received in the 1958 Manchester United air crash at Munich. He scored 26 goals in 105 League games. They would certainly win first prize as the wittiest brothers. Before a match against England at Wembley, captain Danny told a press conference: “Our plan is to equalise before England score and to make sure we retaliate first.”

Jackie responded to harder knocks than most people take in life by saying: “To appreciate the comedy you need the pathos, and boy, have I had pathos …”

CHARLES, John and Mel
“King John” was arguably the greatest British footballer of all time, but he rarely gets the support he deserves in the arguments because he spent his peak years with Juventus, where he is still idolised. He scored 153 goals in two spells with Leeds, and was equally effective at centre-half or centre-forward.

Brother Mel, born in 1935 and four years younger, played as a wing-half for Swansea, Arsenal and Cardiff. They stood shoulder to shoulder in the middle of the Wales defence like a couple of Snowdonian mountains.

I asked Jimmy Greaves what John would be worth in today’s transfer market. “The bidding would have to start at 50 million. You would be getting the best centre-forward and the best centre-half in the land.”

Not always on the same side: Leeds' Jack and Manchester United's Bobby Charlton

CHARLTON, Bobby and Jack
They are as alike as grass and granite, but both have made a gigantic impact on the world of football. Sir Bobby, two years younger and “our kid” to Jack, survived the Munich air crash to become a living legend and the most famous footballer England has ever produced.

Jack, who collected a World Cup winners’ medal with Bobby in 1966, followed an eventful career with Leeds United with success in club and international management. “Our kid,” says Jack, “was the greatest English footballer ever to kick a ball and his next boast will be his first.”

COMPTON, Denis and Leslie
Denis, born in 1918 and six years younger than big brother Leslie, was the hero of heroes for anybody from my old fart generation. Whether wielding his bat like a wand for England and Middlesex or raiding down the wing for Arsenal, he had an army of schoolboys in awe of him.

Leslie, the oldest outfield player to make his football debut for England at 38, was a towering centre-half for the Gunners and an imposing wicketkeeper for Middlesex. Denis became a close pal, a hero who never disappointed me the closer I got. He once told me: “When a sportsman retires they should shoot him, because things are never as good again …”

COOPER, Henry and George
Henry – Our ‘Enery – remains the best loved of all our sportsmen. Always remembered as the man who nearly knocked out Muhammad Ali with his ‘ammer, he was knighted for all the charity work he has done since hanging up his gloves.

Spitting-image twin brother George, 20 minutes younger, fought under the ring name of Jim Cooper because there was already a licence-holding George Cooper. He was almost in Henry’s class but cut even easier than Henry, and retired early to concentrate on helping his brother prepare for his fights.

George died in April aged 75. “Me and me brother were inseparable,” Sir Henry told me. “He was a harder puncher than me but a worse bleeder.”

ROWLEY, Jack and Arthur
Until the Charltons came along, Jack and Arthur were football’s most famous siblings. Old timers will tell you that Jack had the hardest shot in the game, most of his 208 League goals coming for Manchester United.

Arthur, born in 1926 and six years the younger, was a have-boots-will-travel professional hit man who collected an all-time League record 434 goals with West Brom, Fulham, Leicester City and Shrewsbury Town. That’s 642 League goals between them! No two brothers will, I am sure, ever get near that total.

I interviewed Arthur when he was manager at Southend and he told me: “I had a simple philosophy. Get the ball on my left foot and shoot. I wonder how many more goals I might have scored if the war had not been on when I first started as a professional?”

TURPIN, Randolph, Dick and Jackie
The Turpin brothers from Leamington in Warwickshire covered between them an amazing 27 years in British rings. The eldest, Dick, in 1948 became the first black British champion after the lifting of the disgraceful colour bar.

Randolph – the youngest – gained lasting fame by beating the American master Sugar Ray Robinson for the world middleweight title in 1952, holding it for just 64 days before losing it back to the immortal Sugar Ray.

Jackie, the middle brother, fought 124 times during an eight-year career. I also considered for this list the Finnegan brothers, Chris and Kevin, and the McKenzies – Clinton, Duke,  Dudley and Winston.

UNDERWOOD, Tony and Rory

On opposite wings: Rory and Tony Underwood

The first brothers to play rugby together for England since 1937, Rory – older by five years – and Tony were dynamic wingers. Rory was literally the Flying Winger, because at his peak he was piloting jet planes for the Royal Air Force.

Tony is now a Virgin Airlines pilot. Rory scored 245 points in 85 games for England, Tony accumulated 65 points in 27 England games.  One was a left wing the other right – a bit like the Millibands.

Now I must ring my brother and tell him that I love him.

Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here