• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Rio Ferdinand: My family values


The QPR footballer and former England player talks about his gutsy Supermum and how his relationship with his dad grew strong after his parents split

I was named after the Rio Grande, which means Great River. My mum, Janice, thought that sounded good. I Apparently, would have been called Giovanna if I’d been a girl. Gio instead of Rio! Mum was only 17 when she had me, but she was a strong girl. Her Irish mum walked out on the family home in Bermondsey when she was eight. She was one of six kids, but they all mucked in to help their father run the house. My dad, Julian, is from St Lucia. There were 10 in his family and one by one they came to England. Dad was 10 when he came.

Mum and Dad’s story would make a film. When they were dating, passers-by would spit on Mum because she was walking out with a black guy. Dad was also treated badly by the police and people on his estate for being with a white woman. It sounds like a story from apartheid South Africa, but this was London in the 1970s.

Dad is five years older than Mum. My arrival was a shock, but they’d been living together since Mum was 15, so there was a foundation there, of sorts. People still occasionally call Mum Mrs Ferdinand, but they never married.

Mum, who worked as a childminder, is like Supermum. She cooked and cleaned, and moved heaven and Earth to ensure my younger brother Anton and I got to school or youth clubs on time. She was also magnificent on our estate. When our neighbour called me the n-word, Mum kicked her door down, dragged her out of her house and made her apologise to me.

Dad worked as a tailor by day and always wore good gear. He also did security jobs and worked as a bouncer at West End clubs. He’s always been a fit bloke. He was into kung fu, did a lot of weights and had a quiet authority. You didn’t mess with him.

I worshipped Dad, but discussing our feelings wasn’t a big thing in our house and you never knew what he was thinking. Maybe he didn’t know how to talk to us back then. His own father hadn’t shown him affection, so perhaps he struggled to show it to us.

Dad moved out when I was nine. He and Mum never really had fights. He just said, “I’m going away for a while, but I’ll come back and see you.” I shrugged and took him at his word. I’ve never properly understood why Mum and Dad split up. It’s their business.

I guess my parents breaking up means I come from a broken home, but it didn’t feel like it. Dad made a conscious decision to live near us. He thought about returning to St Lucia, but realised he couldn’t be apart from his sons. My relationship with him grew from the moment he moved out. I don’t know why. Now he’s my best mate.

I was a difficult so-and-so after their break-up. One night, some years later, I heard a male voice in our flat. I got up and found a man sitting next to Mum in the living room. I told her to get him out of the house and from that moment I never gave the new guy – Peter – a chance. It put Mum in such a bad position. She’d met someone after living alone and I was making it difficult for her to have a relationship. Eventually she just broke down. We had a long talk and I realised what an idiot I’d been.

Dad met someone else too, Lisa, so the family is much bigger now. There’s me and Anton, plus Mum’s two children with Peter, and Dad’s three with Lisa.

I met Rebecca when I was 21. We’ve had our ups and downs like all couples, but we’ve had a great time and grown up together. She not interested in football, which suits me because I can switch off when I come home. No one tended to get married in our family so it wasn’t on my agenda. But when I had kids, it seemed like a natural progression.

I marvel at my three children. No matter what’s happened at work, you come home and they just treat you as Dad. I love looking after them, but Rebecca is the one who makes it work and ensures they’re in the right place at the right time. Occasionally I listen to young players and think I wouldn’t mind partying once every few months. But I had my time. This is a different phase of my life.

Culled from guardian.co.uk