Brother beyond

Sibling rivalry is rarely more keenly felt than in professional sport. What is it like being Hugo Maradona, Carl Hoddle or Mathias Pogba?

By Gordon Cairns

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

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The most spectacular example of football directors believing in the magical power of genetic transference was when Raith Rovers agreed to Nicolas Anelka’s brother managing the first team in 2004, a decision akin to allowing Gordon Ramsey’s brother to do the food at your wedding.

Raymond McStay’s Celtic career highlight happened in the Spring of 1994 while he was sitting in a Perspex box on the outskirts of Perth; his first time in the first team squad after seven years on the club’s books, in a league match against St. Johnstone. Gliding elegantly across the pitch was the greatest Scottish midfield player of his generation and later voted into Celtic’s greatest ever team alongside McNeill, Dalglish and Larsson: Raymond’s big brother Paul. Was he hoping that Paul might twist a knee or just have a poor game and be replaced by the only midfielder in the dug-out? Neither happened and warming up in Perth was as close as he got to the pitch that day. He left the club the following season having never made a first-team appearance. After Celtic, he joined Hamilton Academical before turning out as a trialist for Stranraer and East Stirling, his career slowly deflating like a birthday balloon to retirement at the age of 27.

He has never publicly commented on how it felt to be constantly lowering expectations raised by the name on the back of his jersey, but I don’t think I am the only sibling who can have an educated guess at his emotions. I’ve played football with my two older brothers for more than four decades; starting in our barren back garden, then graduating to the actual goalposts of Budhill Park before moving further afield to the wide expanses of Greenfield Park in the east end of Glasgow. My clearest childhood football memory is the Christmas when we were all given new football kit for the first time; my older brothers choosing the iconic Coventry City tram-track design and the classic red and yellow Partick Thistle strip while I picked a brand new white Admiral jersey; one of my earliest footballing mistakes as a bigger fan of the sportswear manufacturer and England winger Gordon Hill than the national team. While my brothers progressed to the Boys Brigades’ teams at different age groups, I was asked halfway during my trial by a kindly old BB captain whether I liked the sport. I think he presumed I had come along altruistically to make up the numbers and unsurprisingly I didn’t make the cut.

Although we don’t play on grass anymore and our choice of footballing attire is more international than parochial, one thing hasn’t changed: my brothers are still better than me at football. Unlike professional siblings however, at least I can say this only happens for an hour once a week. Hugo Maradona, Carl Hoddle and Mathias Pogba would all have been assessed every week more judgementally by fans and teammates alike because of who they shared their DNA with rather than what they could do as individuals.

In his first interview with the BBC on joining Partick Thistle in 2015, Pogba senior expressed a forlorn hope: “Definitely as a footballer you would like to be known as you, not as the brother of Paul. Everybody has been talking about my brother, but now it would be nice to say ‘OK, Mathias Pogba is here’.” It was not to be. Every opening sentence in every interview he gave to the Scottish press mentioned his more celebrated sibling, while Thistle fans were more likely to comment on his size and immobility than either his or his brother’s footballing ability. The striker scored three goals in his only season at Firhill, moving on in the same summer that Paul moved to the UK. Coincidental or trying to preserve his self-esteem? He is currently without a contract. Perhaps the Thistle directors who signed him expected more than the chance to sell a few more of the garish Kingsley jerseys with a superstar connection on the back and thought the Pogba name alone was enough to terrify the opposition.

The most spectacular example of football directors believing in the magical power of genetic transference was when Raith Rovers agreed to Nicolas Anelka’s brother managing the first team in 2004, a decision akin to allowing Gordon Ramsey’s brother to do the food at your wedding. DJ and football agent Claude was already director of football, having invested £200,000 in the club and talked about making Rovers the third force in Scottish football, at a time when they had just avoided relegation to the third tier. Anelka signed 14 new players, some of whom had never played 11-a-side before, having developed their skills in the Parisian seven-a-side leagues. The club drew one out of their first 10 first division games and lost the rest, before he stood down in October with all of his money spent. On resigning he said: “I quickly realised that there was more to the game in Scotland than I thought,” pulling off the remarkable feat of actually underestimating Scottish football.

While Mixu Paatelainen may lack Anelka’s brooding glamour, he could be considered one of the most successful foreign imports outside of the Old Firm in Scotland. However the same could not be said for his younger brothers, who both followed him across the North Sea to join his old club, Aberdeen. Neither Mikko nor Markus managed a first-team game and were destined for Scottish football oblivion until a spot of nepotism bought them to Cowdenbeath in 2005, where big brother Mixu was manager. Each sibling shone for the championship winning Blue Brazil, with Mikko scoring seven goals in eight games and winning the Third Division Player of the month award before returning to his Finnish club and older brother Markus, who won the season’s award, joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He played only 11 games before also returning home. Was it family ties that made the Paatelainens click, or was it that they had found their level in Scotland’s lowest division, a very unusual destination for a foreign import?

I find it unusual that sibling rivalry has never really been aired in public since the days of the Charltons, and even then the World Cup winning brothers’ grievances were more familial than footballing. Jack was closer to his mum and she didn’t like Bobby’s wife. Compare the elder McGinn brothers’ reaction to John’s success at Hibernian to that other childhood fantasy, being singer or guitarist in a rock and roll band. Collectively the Gallaghers, the Reids and the Davies brothers were willing to physically fight and eventually destroy the thing that made them successful in the first place; breaking up Oasis, The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Kinks rather than share the public’s adoration with a brother. The McGinns in contrast are a shining example of filial tranquillity. Elder brother by six years, St. Mirren player Stephen has said: “John is the best player in the family,” and brother Paul of Partick Thistle has agreed. At least Stephen added: “However we are like every set of brothers in that we never really praise or compliment one another to their faces.” If the McGinns were a band, they would probably be The Osmonds.

The rivalry between Jai Quitongo and his brother, Hamilton defender Rico, seems more realistic. In a recent interview, the Morton player describes playing football with his dad Jose and wee brother when they were kids: “Sometimes it only lasted half an hour because my dad would let my wee brother’s shots in and we’d start arguing. I would be moaning and shouting at my brother. He would be trying to keep me out, while I tried to score. I think that is why he is now a defender.”

I have one ray of hope for my own sibling rivalry: as I am the youngest I’m hopeful my brothers’ legs will give out first.

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

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