At the ages of five and three, we were kicking a football by the side of the house, on the garage in the back garden and at the Barracks playing field in Bury. Rather than call up a mate to play with, we only wanted to play against each other.
We had a competitive nature from day one. It was a massive factor in us eventually winning trophies and playing for England at major tournaments because it meant we never, ever got tired of practice. We’d even get to school 45 minutes early just to be on the playground.
But we’d get sick of each other.
Often, we’d walk to the fields together but come back separately because of a row about whether it was a goal or not. And yeah, we’d kick lumps out of each other. That’s brothers, that’s life.
The first time we played in the same school team together was a big deal. Phil had to step up a couple of school years to do it. Then he played above his age group in my Sunday team, Boundary Park Juniors, as well as Bury Juniors. I’m the older one, so when we played together as kids I was physically stronger – that toughened him up.
When we signed for Manchester United, we were both playing in similar positions. There was always that competition for that fullback slot.
In 1996, we won our first league title together and Phil got to play the last few games of the season and the FA Cup final [in my place].
Of course I was disappointed. One of my biggest disappointments, though, was when Phil was left out of the England squad for the 1998 World Cup. I’d never seen him so devastated.
But you live the ups and downs together. We were both in the England squad for Euro 96. We played in the 1999 FA Cup final together. We went to Sir Alex Ferguson’s house together when Phil told him he wanted to leave United. Those are big, big moments to experience with your brother.
I don’t remember once thinking that one of us wouldn’t make it as a professional footballer. You have doubts at times about contracts and those sort of things, but what we always had was our work ethic.
We weren’t blessed with the most talent in the world, but we were blessed with the talent to never know when we were beaten. We motivated one another and helped each other out just by being there.
The competitiveness remains now – if not with each other. Phil was really good at Valencia [as my assistant].
He loved being over there.
I went there to do a job for four or five months. Part of me feels like I let him down by not being better at some of my decision-making. I’m delighted for him now he’s in charge of the England women’s team. He’s determined, he wanted to be his own man. I’m in punditry, and I’m happy.
We’re there for each other still, but I’m 43 now. It’s not like I ring him up every morning, trying to drive him on. If he needs me, he can call.
Cafe Football is showing Man Utd v Arsenal on 29 April; cafe-football.com