Sibling rivalry will spur Gardner on

FAMILY AFFAIR: Craig Gardner, left, and brother Gary will be in opposing sides when Sunderland play at Aston Villa tomorrow

FAMILY AFFAIR: Craig Gardner, left, and brother Gary will be in opposing sides when Sunderland play at Aston Villa tomorrow

First published in Sunderland Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Writer/Sub-Editor

WHEN the Gardner family sit down for a meal tomorrow evening, one brother may be disappointed, another may be elated - but the overwhelming feeling will undoubtedly be that of pride.

Craig and Gary Gardner are expected to start for Sunderland and Aston Villa as the two sides face each other at Villa Park. It will be the first time the two brothers will have lined up against one another since Gary returned from a cruciate knee injury this season, and Craig signed for Sunderland in the summer.

And while parents Gary and Sharon will have split loyalties, Craig, five years older than defender Gary, knows that it will be a special moment regardless of the final result.

"It's a rare thing for brothers to play each other in the Premier League," the 25-year old midfielder said. "I'm not sure how many tickets we'll need. It will be a proud moment for the whole family. We've got a box at Villa so we'll get everyone in.

"My mum will probably end up crying and we'll tell her to shut up! Hopefully they'll be very proud to see us, the proudest parents in the world.

"It's a massive game for Villa and we can have a laugh and joke here and afterwards but when we're both on the pitch we'll do everything we need to do to win the game and the banter goes out of the window. We'll have a bit of banter after the game but it's too important during the game for that kind of thing. It's a must-win game for both clubs."

Football is big business in the Gardner household. As well as Craig and Gary's success, there are four other brothers - Paul, 34; Terry, 32; Mark, 28; and Richard, 23, who are all keen footballers.

"We're competitive at most things," explained Gardner, who made a £5m move from Birmingham City to Wearside. "There are six brothers in all, when you get them all in a house together we're really competitive about everything and everyone wants to win and if you don't win, you get a punch in the face.

"Without our parents we wouldn't be where we are today.

"They took us all over Europe and England and they have been absolutely brilliant and this is our chance to thank them really, watching their two sons on the same pitch in the Premier League playing against each other.

"Who will they be supporting? I really don't know, I'll have to ask them that. Everyone will just be happy if we come through the game and are all right after it, and it's a fair result and the best team wins."

So who is the better player then? "I've walked every step Gary's taking now, he's a good listener and he learns," said Craig. "He's got many strengths, he's good in the air, he's good on the ball, he's quick and he's strong, he's a top player but I'm not going to blow his trumpet too much.

"Gary's the pup, but he's a big pup, he's about six foot three, he must have been the milkman's! He's huge. Bigger than all of us."

Brought up in the Yardley area of Birmingham, a short hop up the A45 from Villa Park, the Gardners received their footballing education in an area which is half Villa and half City.

Craig made the difficult decision to sign for Birmingham from Villa in 2010, so he knows all about the problems encountered by Alex McLeish on becoming the Villa manager in the summer, but has warned that there will be no sympathy when the teams kick off tomorrow.

"As an area, Yardley's probably about half and half Blues and Villa. I'm probably more a Blues fan than a Villa fan but whichever team you play for you give 110 per cent and wear your heart on your sleeve," he explained.

"I'm telling you now, there's not many people make the switch from Villa to Blues but McLeish had the bottle to do it as a manager and I did it as a player. He's no average Joe, he's a top-class manager, look what he did at Rangers.

"He is a good manager - he's been in this situation before, he knows what to do - he's hugely experienced and if Villa fans are thinking about what's going to happen this season they should have faith in him because he's good for the club.

"Looking from the outside I don't know what's happened there but they've got a good chairman, manager and fans.

"Big clubs can go down, definitely, there was Newcastle, Leeds, West Ham last year and Birmingham. Massive clubs do go down. You have to dig deep when you get sucked into it.

"The Villa-Blues thing is a big thing but they've got to get behind the manager. He's the right man for the job.

"Football's a serious job and McLeish has had the bottle to go there and I'm sure he'll turn it round. If a job comes up at Villa it's hard to turn it down, it's a massive club.

"It's not just a massive game for Villa, it's a massive game for us. We want to finish as high up the league as we can. To bring in ten players last summer and finish seventh or eighth would be a massive achievement."

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