by Bum D. Tenorio, Jr. (The Philippine Star)
To interview James and Phil Younghusband, two of Azkals’ star football players, is to witness genuine love between brothers. They finish each other’s sentences or remember the punch lines of their individual jokes.
PHOTO: Best of friends: Phil and James Younghusband.
The brotherhood they keep is something they celebrate every day — Phil occasionally calls James “my kuya,” they are only 11 months apart in age. Off the football field, they are not only brothers — they are the best of friends who, because they are completely orphaned now, are tasked with parenting their 10-year-old sister Keri. They lost their Filipino mother Susan Placer Younghusband last September. Their British father Philip Younghusband Sr. passed on when James was only 17, and Phil, 16.
“We’re very fortunate to have had great parents,” says James. “They went to all our games, all our trainings and they were always there to support us, even when we’d go abroad to play football, they would be there. They were responsible for making Phil and me the best of friends.”
Growing up in South West London in a place called Staines, Middlesex, James, now 25, and Phil, now 24, say they did everything together — they entered the same sports and were classmates in all the schools they attended. When they were kids, they did all sports together — athletics, volleyball, basketball, taekwondo, swimming and cricket. But since football was the biggest sport in England, add to that their father was into the sport, the Younghusband brothers stayed in football and made sure they would excel in it.
They did not only excel in the sport, they have also made it their advocacy to impart their knowledge of football to others. Because James and Phil believe in the capacity of the Filipinos to be great football players, they put up The Younghusband Football Academy in January 2010, the year they also settled in Manila. The academy conducts a series of enhancement clinics for football skills around the Philippines. The brothers are also primed at doing football-related shows on TV5.
Their love for football has helped them foster a strong bond of brotherhood between them. But James and Phil agree that their friendship was greatly honed at home.
“Our mother taught us that family is everything. In England, when you meet someone, you just say hello. But for our mom, it’s important to treat elders with respect. She didn’t like for us to be arrogant. She taught us to use po and opo when we would visit our relatives in Malabon every year since we were born,” says Phil. He adds that they get to bond with their relatives from Malabon every time the Azkals have a game in Manila. “We send them tickets so we can all see each other.”
“Our dad was more of the disciplinarian. He wasn’t strict but he made sure we struck a balance between football and our studies,” James says.
James and Phil went to the same college in England — the Salesian College. James finished Graphic Design and Physical Education while Phil earned a degree in Math Mechanics. (“He’s good in Math and Physics,” James says of his younger brother.)
James adds: “Our mom was more of the one we would run to when we’re scared or lonely. She was the one who’d console us and be there for us. Our mom was the one we could be emotional with, Dad was the one who would help us live our lives and prepare us for the real world. That was a great balance that they gave us. It was perfect parenting combination that they gave us.”
Now that their parents are gone, James and Phil take seriously the lessons they both learned from them. When they are not representing the country in international football games, the Younghusband brothers can be found at home parenting their only sister Keri — the apple of their eye, the source of their joy, the reason why they both strive hard in their sport.
“We have to be good role models for our sister. We love her dearly and for her we will do everything. It’s difficult not having parents when we’re still very young. That’s why we have to stick together and be very close. Because I’m the eldest, I take the responsibility of being both mother and father to Keri, also to Phil,” says James.
“Keri’s got a smile that can cheer you up. She’s always smiling. She’s actually now into hip-hop dancing,” says Phil of his sister. “We’re also very blessed to have friends and relatives who help us in taking care of Keri. To them we are grateful.”
How would the brothers describe each other?
“Phil is wicked to me in a good way,” James smiles, adding that they share the same love for alternative, RnB, hip-hop and rock music.
“He’s a real kuya. He’s always there for me. He’s very loving and kind,” Phil says of his brother whom, when they were very young, he used to chase around with a tennis racket every time their “brotherly fight” got a little rough.
With a hearty chuckle, Phil recalls, “As kids I had bite marks on my arms. James would always bite me when we were babies, our mom would tell us. And I remember chasing James with a tennis racket and things like that. So we’ve had some fun times but we’ve always made up before the end of the day.”
The brothers admit that growing up they experienced sibling rivalry. Phil and James, however, used that rivalry to better themselves — to inspire and not to outdo or put down each other. Their rivalry in athletics in high school, for example, was used to motivate each other to be better and faster athletes. In the end, their rivalry led to a celebration of brotherhood. As time passed by, they realized that they just had to be there for each other — not only as brothers but also as best of friends.
“Phil has helped me become the person I am today. So, I’m very fortunate to have him as my brother. He taught me not to take everything very personally,” James says of his brother’s contribution to his personal life.
“James and I have experienced pretty much everything together. He’s very patient and very reserved. He’s more laidback. And I think I need to learn those things from him,” Phil says. He adds, “On the field, James is more emotional. Outside the field, I’m more emotional.”
For James and Phil, their differences are the glue that makes them more solid as brothers. Their love for football glued their brotherhood — because in this sport, they have learned to defend each other. And depend on one another.