It hasn’t been that long since James and Phil Younghusband shot to fame, and along with it, the popularity of the game the brothers so love into mainstream acceptance and play.
The novelty of the good-looking, half-Brit soccer players is, in a way, on the wane, and yet more than ever, the contracts for product endorsements and projects continue to pour in. Testament perhaps to their effectivity as credible endorsers.
The soccer academy they’ve set up is, in their words, “doing good,” and through their collective effort, the sport that was largely unknown and ignored in this basketball-obsessed country five, 10 years ago, is becoming professionalized. More Filipino kids, whether they’re living in Manila’s exclusive gated villages or in the depressed areas of the metropolis, “now want a serious future in the sport,” according to Phil, the younger of the two at 25. The brothers play with the Azkals, and coach kids as young as toddlers half the time.
Perhaps it’s their humility that draws people to the Younghusbands, way after people have gotten past their movie-star looks. They’re all-around nice guys, never too big to grant a fan’s request for a photo-op, or extend a hand to a relative in need. And they don’t take credit for the Azkals. It’s the team’s success at the Suzuki Cup that made people take notice, they insist.
It is also, perhaps, the many years of sports training since they were small boys in England that taught the brothers reliability and maturity, such that it came natural for them to assume responsibility for their preteen only sister when they were orphaned in 2011, following the sudden passing of their mother. (The Younghusbands moved to the Philippines when the boys were 17 and 16 after their British father died in 2003.)
“It wasn’t that difficult, the transition, because James and I were sort of the father figures after our dad died,” says Phil. “We had to grow up faster than our time.”
The seeming encumbrance of co-parenting an adolescent girl, they say, isn’t complicated by the fact that they’re young men at the peak of their popularity, with their own busy work schedules and respective girlfriends to woo and spend time with. Phil is dating a very famous actress, while James is in a more low-key relationship with a wedding fashion designer. They go on group dates with their sister; James, the more fashion-loving of the two, even takes their sister clothes-shopping.
The brothers are incredibly close even as they both admit they’re very competitive. But more than a rivalry, they insist it’s a healthy competition between them. They make light of it when we asked if they’re paid equally in their product endorsements. If one is doing better, it would only motivate the other to do better, they say. “Football has helped us develop the way we are,” says James.
If one is to go by an athlete’s shelf life, the Younghusbands still each have a 10 good years of play time. That’s still a good long time to cheer them on the field. But between now and anytime soon, don’t expect either of them stripping for billboards to peddle a product. Nor Phil acting in a drama opposite girlfriend Angel Locsin.
What’s your typical day like?
P: Mornings, apart from today, we’re usually in training from 8 to 10. So we’re usually in the scorching heat.
J: Hence all these tan lines.
P: So we’re up really early to train at 8. We have breakfast before. Afterward, we get a few hours to rest before lunch.
J: So in the morning, we’re out playing football, and in the afternoon, we teach kids football at the soccer academy. It’s football 24/7.
How’s the school doing now?
P: It’s doing good. Summer’s probably our most popular time and the busiest time for our school. Right now the kids are having fun and they’re enjoying themselves. We have more programs during summer than during the school year. We have over a couple hundred kids enrolled for summer.
But during the school year?
P: It probably goes down… We have one program that’s more for recreation, to get kids involved—more playing, not so serious. But then we have another program that’s more serious in building players for the future. That one pretty much stays the same because the kids want to be professional football players. But the one that’s just for fun, that probably goes down a little.
What are the kids’ ages?
P: We have under 8, under 10, under 12, under 14, under 17 and under 19. So it ranges from college all the way down to toddlers.
Do you have girls as well?
P: Yeah. Under 13, the girls and boys are grouped together. But as they grow older, they’re separated into women’s and men’s teams.
Is it harder to teach the under 8s? Do you have a special program for them?
J: It’s pretty easy. Of course, you have to know your students well. Because we’ve been in that situation, that age when we knew what we wanted to learn. But kids, they just want to run around and have fun. Just don’t go into too much detail, don’t be too technical.
They’re still young, they just want to have fun and get as many touches on the ball. But once they get older, you get into more details, show them little tricks, more about the mind, more tactical.
P: We were also coached that way. Since we’re playing all the time, we get coached all the time, and it’s easy to put it into our own kind of coaching. But when we’re dealing with under 8s, we have to change our mentality. So when the kids are doing their warm-up, we do “celebrations,” like doing a dance, but when you’re older you don’t do that sort of thing.
Once you get older, with the warm-up you get more serious, like real stretches, and jog up and down.
J: You want to keep them interested, you don’t want them bored. You don’t want them to feel that they’d rather be at home than out on the field.
So which is easier for you: playing or coaching?
P: It’s different. You do less movement when you’re coaching, but it’s more tiring mentally. Because when I’m playing, it’s a lot more on instinct, reacting. When you’re coaching, you have to think about the kids, make sure they’re safe, make sure they’re enjoying it. So there’s a lot going through your mind. But when I’m playing, I’m just playing.
I find coaching a lot more strenuous than actually playing, even though you’re probably physically doing more when you’re playing.
Do you find girls following you a distraction? How do you keep them at bay?
P: In coaching? Well, it’s not so bad, especially with kids you’ve known for a long time. It’s the kids you’ve just met…they want autographs, it sort of takes you away from your objective of teaching the kids.
When we went to Bacolod, we did some coaching, and we were trying to coach this kid. Then he runs to his parents who are pushing him to take a photo…and I just say, sorry, can we coach him first. So, once you’re with the kids for a while, and you’re coaching, it becomes less of a distraction. But when you’re meeting them for the first time, it can become difficult, with the pictures.
It’s like you’re in a transition from playing to coaching.
P: Yeah, that’s the difficult thing, the transition from playing to coaching.
But it seems you still have some good years left for playing.
P: Yeah, yeah. You usually finish playing football around age 35 or 36. I’m 25… [James is] 26, so we still have 10 more years.
Is that your “screen” age?
P: (Laughs) No. That’s our birth age. I forgot my birth certificate.
J: It’s interesting that you brought it up, ’cause I was thinking about over the past week—switching from playing to coaching in a week or in a day, it’s difficult.
In Europe, off-season for players is summer, while here it’s actually the busiest time. So football here is still developing. Ideally, you’d want to have here an off-season during the summer, but when the players are off they can coach kids, pass on what they know. And we really want to promote the sport here, really have kids play during the summer.
P: So basically James is saying we have no time-off. (Laughs)
How are you planning to grow the academy?
J: When we started, we basically just wanted to bring our knowledge, what we learned from Chelsea and growing up, and bring it here.
Luckily, now, we have the support of Chelsea, so they’re bringing in more coaches. So that has made it easier for us, we don’t have to be the ones to coach all the time. We’ll have our own facility, which is the most difficult thing, especially a good, flat one where the kids won’t get frustrated, they don’t get injured, and the ball just runs smoother.
P: I think one of the words we can use is, we’ve “professionalized.” Kids now want a serious future in the sport. We’ve partnered with GK, DSWD, Chelsea Philippines.
J: Now, with the academy, we want to create more competitions. All these institutions have training programs, and the kids train and train but we feel like they’re not being tested for competitions. So we want to focus more on organized tournaments than just training.
P: Partnering with the Chelsea Soccer School, we’re able to bring in other teams. There’s Chelsea School South Korea, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong. So they’re able to bring their teams to the Philippines. We had Chelsea School South Korea come in a few months ago. So kids from other countries can compete with our kids. Last year, our kids went to Singapore. So the academy’s growing in terms of reaching out to other countries, bringing in new knowledge, learning more things.
Is Angel [Locsin] into sports?
P: Yes she is, she used to be a swimmer at UST.
Have you learned any tricks from her?
P: Not football moves, no. It’s funny, we shot for “TodaMax” once, and the episode was about football.
Do you think it was your presence that generated the attention the Azkals now have?
P: No. It was the success. It was actually our success in the Suzuki Cup that made the difference. The success was in the ability of the players to do well in the competition. If the Philippine team could get good results on that big a scale, then that would generate more buzz.
Was your coming to the Philippines part of a plan or was it accidental?
P: We’ve been to the Philippines every year since we were born. We’re very close to our family. We grew up in England, but every year during the summer we’d come here and spend time with the family.
Our mom was from Malabon. Our father died when I was 16, in 2003. All our family is here, and we wanted to be with our family so we decided to move here, and we’ve been here all the time so the transition wasn’t difficult. We felt at home.
You have a younger sister.
P: Yeah we have an 11-year-old sister. James and I are her guardians.
You guys are raising her. Where does she study?
P: She studies in an international school. She does learn Tagalog, but when they teach it, it’s very deep, so it’s hard to take in.
J: It’s hard dealing with teenage girls.
So what rules do you have to set for your sister?
P: Discipline. In school…
J: With her gadgets. She becomes very antisocial.
Do you confiscate them?
P: Yeah, yeah.
J: We’ve had tantrums…
P: Sometimes he’s strict, sometimes I’m strict. Like with Kumon, sometimes she hesitates to go to Kumon. We try to emphasize how important studying is. What we do to get her attention is to say, you’ll get rewarded if you do good things.
J: Like with One Direction.
Who goes to the parent-teacher conferences?
P: I do.
Are you afraid of the day she starts dating?
J: It’s funny, she tries to hide them from us.
P: I don’t know if she wants to hide it from us, ’cause she’s like, “I don’t want you to know about my boyfriend, Phil.”
She already has a boyfriend?
P: She says things like that, but she’s the one who brings it up, so maybe she’s trying to tell me.
Do you pry into her cell phone?
P: No, no. But now we’re pretty strict on her use of social media.
How do you monitor that?
P: We just don’t let her have any. She’s not allowed.
J: Not yet, not at this age.
She doesn’t have a smartphone?
P: She does, but we have people monitor it. We don’t look into her phone, but she lets me know the password anyway.
Do you think she’ll choose to be a public figure like you guys?
P: Not really…she’s into ballet at the moment.
J: She’s into tennis as well. We want her to socialize, and tennis is more of a one-on-one sport, but in ballet she has loads of friends.
P: We want her to find her own path. We want her to find her own passion and follow that rather than tell her, we want you to be like this.
You’re young, single guys, and suddenly you’re parents to this adolescent.
P: It wasn’t that difficult, the transition, because James and I were sort of the father figures after our dad died. We still had our mom. It wasn’t like we lost both parents at the same time. So when we lost our father, we had to grow up faster than our time.
J: When we lost our mom, we had a lot of people supporting us. They make life a lot easier for us.
P: Obviously, sometimes we’re out of the country, at our games, so she (sister) always has someone with her. There are always good people who help us out.
Who goes shopping with her for clothes?
J: I do.
Who bought her first bra?
P: Oh, we have someone else buy the bras.
J: But I like to shop with her, to reward her.
So you’re (James) more into fashion?
J: Yeah, I like to dress her up.
Are you strict with how she dresses up, like if something is too short…
J: No, no. As long as she’s comfortable. I want her to be up-to-date and fashionable. I don’t want other kids making fun of her.
What do you miss most about England?
P: Just our friends.
Do you miss the anonymity?
P: No, not really. I just miss my friends. This is my home, more than anywhere else. Even when I went back to England, I didn’t feel at home. It felt more like a vacation than anything; so, yeah, this is our home.
You finished high school, right?
P: High school, college.
What course did you take?
P: I took up Math Mechanics.
J: Graphics Design.
P: It was part of our football contract.
J: Our scholarship. You have to do, like, two subjects of Education.
Who’s the party-goer?
P: James is probably out more than I am, ’cause he’s always meeting with his girlfriend.
Who’s your girlfriend (James)?
J: Her name’s Sari. But when you’re playing football, you’re really busy, can’t really afford to go out much.
So what do you guys do for fun?
J: Watch “Iron Man.” DVDs, watch TV, go bowling.
P: Actually when we do have time, we’re so tired we just want to sleep.
J: Go to the spa.
But do you have the same friends?
P: Yeah. We’re only 11 months apart. We’re on the same football team…
J: We’re in the same grade in school…
Do you ever fight? Because you seem so close.
J: It was more physical when we were younger. Now, it’s words.
P: It’s becoming less and less as we grow older, more mature. (Laughs)
What do you fight about?
P: Our last fight was on the football field.
J: Who’s better at so and so…
P: Yeah the last one was on the football field, during the game…
Was there ever a time you fought over a girl?
P: Never, no.
So you have different tastes.
P: We’d never let that get in between us, anyway.
Is there rivalry between you two?
P: I think there’s healthy competition. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where it’s so bad, we stop talking to each other.
J: Football has helped us develop the way we have. We had a match last year where it was Phil’s team versus my team, and even though your team won by 1, I learned a lot from that game. Because we competed against each other, we learned a lot.
P: I think it has always motivated us. If James were doing better than myself, it would motivate me to do better, and vice versa.
What about a show biz career?
P: No, not right now.
But you have many endorsements.
J: But we want to be known as football players.
P: But we never want to close any doors, or say no to anyone. We’re always open to doing new things. So we’re not saying no, but not right now. If ever there’s opportunity for something we can tell people that we’re proud of, we’d do it.
Does your sister get to hang out with your girlfriends? Do they get along?
J: We all went to Laser Tag yesterday.
Are you as competitive outside football?
J: Yeah, we liked to play computer games against each other. If someone was losing, they’d throw the console… (Laughs)
P: Yeah, we’re quite competitive. I think we’re more competitive off the field. Because on the field, you’re in your environment, but when you’re out of it, you can get quite competitive.
Are you guys good with money?
P: We’re learning.
J: We’ve had experiences, when we were younger, how it’s like to be without money. You treasure and value it. We’re very careful now.
P: When my dad passed away, we still had our contract with Chelsea, so we were still earning. But when we moved here, for a time, my mom, James and I, we weren’t earning. So we knew what it’s like to be in a situation when you don’t have anything to spend.
J: I remember one time, when I still had my Chelsea contract, every time I got paid, I’d go to central London and buy clothes. I literally spent everything in my account. Then my car got towed, and I didn’t have any money to ride a train. I went to the ATM, and it had zero balance. And then I went to call my mom, and my battery went dead. So I was stuck in the middle of London, and luckily I had my credit card, so I was able to get 10 pounds, went home to my mom to get my spare key, and she went with me to get my car back. I learned my lesson that time.
P: In Azkals, we don’t earn money. You get an allowance, though.
How about in coaching?
P: No, it’s more for the love of it… But we do earn playing for our club teams.
But what about what the parents pay?
P: That goes more into operations. Last year, we actually had a loss.
So you own the business of coaching?
P: Yeah, we have the Younghusband Football Academy and Chelsea Soccer School.
You pay the coaches, right?
P: Yes, we do.
So it’s from really the endorsements that you earn.
P: Yes, yes, that’s what’s keeping us going right now. (Laughs) But our club team, Meralco, gives us a little, especially since it’s more long-term.
J: But before, when we started playing for the national team in 2006, we were getting $100 for two weeks. It was really more for the love of it. We loved being part of the team.
Where do you invest your money?
J: In the bank. (Laughs) We’re more conservative with our money now. No clothes anymore. (Laughs)
No investments in real estate?
P: Planning, planning. I own a condo in Serendra.
When did your mom pass away?
You seemed very close to your mom. How are you coping? Do you think they’d be proud of you now?
P: Yeah we were very close.
J: Yeah, of course. I think we’re doing today what they taught us, and I think that’s what they wanted. My mom was always worried about what would happen to us if they passed away, and I think she’d be happy to see that there are a lot of people helping us.
Our dad was concerned as well, even though he loved football, he was like, you can’t rely solely on football. I think he’d be happy to see us doing other things in life.
Does it ever get to the point when you would think, “What would mom do or say?”
P: I think I know what mom would say, especially with Keri. Of course, there are things you miss, like they say, you can never beat mom’s cooking.
But I think they’d be proud of their investment, all those times they drove us to training, they were there at every game, they paid for us to learn football. They’re probably happy that we’re in football, that what they’ve invested is coming back. And that’s the one thing we’re most proud of, to be known as football players, more than anything.
And this will go down in history, you popularizing football.
P: We hope we can leave a legacy.
What’s your height?
Do you guys help your sister with her homework?
J: It’s difficult to find the time.
P: I wish I could do her Kumon with her. She doesn’t like doing the equations, but I actually find it quite enjoyable. She has a tutor. But there are some things she knows that we don’t know.
J: Our minds are a bit rusty.
P: We can talk about football… I can tell you about Math Mechanics, but I can’t talk to you about Social Studies.
P: I think without James, I wouldn’t be where I am, and vice versa, especially in football. I wouldn’t be able to score the goals without James. So we are very, very blessed and lucky to have companies and brands support us.
What’s the most wrong thing that’s been written about you?
J: There’s quite a lot, actually.
P: But not from you guys, you’re a respectable newspaper. But the tabloids…
J: The one I read, and I know it was directed at me, was a blind item, that I was cheating on my ex-girlfriend with a married woman. And I was like, really? And my girlfriend at that time knew it wasn’t true ’cause I was always with her.
How did you know it was you?
J: ’Cause it said, which one of the famous soccer brothers who has a young girlfriend… so, I was, okay.
Did you sue?
J: No. I think these things, when you read them, they make you stronger. You try to make something positive out of it, like prove your worth.
You said there were a lot.
P: I get tweets, they send me links to these tabloids… I can’t remember, there’s just a lot.
You get hate mail?
J: But we get good ones, too, especially after a game. If you’ve done well, you get messages of support.
How do you react to negative comments?
J: He writes back to them.
P: No, no. (Laughs) You just scroll down. But, you see, even the people I idolize, they get hate mail. Even Roger Federer, what can he do wrong, he’s all class, but you read all those things about him, trying to bring him down.
J: You also have to think, this person has spent a lot of time writing about you, you must have some impact on him/her.
You’ve most probably been propositioned by fans. What was the most outrageous proposition?
J: A marriage proposal. When I was playing for the national team in Bacolod in 2005-2006.
You were still very young then.
How old was the woman?
J: Very young. I don’t think she knew what she was doing. A couple of guys, too.
P: Honestly, I’ve never had anything indecent. It’s usually quite sweet and loving. Filipino women are like that—they’re more sweet and supportive.
What’s it like dating in the limelight? Especially you, Phil, since you’re dating a very popular actress.
P: Of course, in the beginning there was a lot of attention, but now that we’ve been together for quite some time… We’ve dated over two years.
It’s somewhat difficult, because you can’t go to the cinema. I love going to the cinema, but when I’m with Angel, and you have to go get the popcorn, or you’re late for the movie, but you want to do the pictures with everyone because they support you and everything… I could never say no to a photo.
And she’s more popular than I, so it’s very, very busy, and obviously there’s a lot of attention. But we try to watch DVDs; I attend her events when she wins awards, I want to support that.
So you guys are both really busy, and you rarely have time to see each other. Are you the type who texts all day?
P: I text her all the time. I always remind her how I feel about her. It’s good. I always say I never want her to lose that kilig feeling, I always want her to be kilig. So I always make sure I have constant contact with her. I never go a day without messaging her.
You have pet names for each other?
P: Yeah, we have lots, but I’ll keep them between us. (Laughs)
Would you say you guys are good boyfriends to your girlfriends?
P: I’d like to think so. I want to be.
James, do you try to avoid dating someone as popular?
J: I go for girls I really like.
P: So do I. (Laughs)
J: But if I meet someone, I really get to know her. I don’t aim for this girl or that girl.
Do you have dual citizenship?
P: Yes, we do.
Have you had women crazy-obsessed with you?
J: We’ve had really supportive fans coming to all our matches…
P: None dangerously crazy.
J: Not yet.
So do you still get to go to the mall?
J: We try to keep a low profile. We go when it’s not busy. For example, I go Monday for grocery shopping, when it’s not too crowded. Or go to cinema with a cap on.
P: There’s always a trick. People don’t know it’s you until someone has a photo taken with you. Then more people come.
J: It’s fun taking photos, but there’s a time and place for it. When you’re preparing for a game, and you’re getting psyched for it, it’s difficult.
What have you had to give up because of popularity?
J: I think, time. When I’m out shopping with my girlfriend or my sister, and people start taking photos and they’re waiting outside, I’m like, go ahead, I’ll follow you. But they understand.
P: Fewer dates, less going to the market.
You’ve never done the MRT?
P: I did it once, but that was before the success of the team. And it was scary. I rode during rush hour, and I was going to Glorietta from Megamall. And my friend was injured, he was limping, so when we went in he asked the guard if he could go to the women’s [section]. So the train pulled out, and this eight- or nine-year-old girl came flying out, and she was crying. So we were there with the women. It was in 2007. I remember being pressed up the window. That was my only experience riding the MRT.
How about jeepneys?
P: Oh yeah.
J: We used to ride them when we were little. We’d ride in the back and hold on.
P: We love the jeepneys. Even on short journeys, we like to ride jeepneys.
J: Or tricycles.
P: Even in Mandaluyong, we ride the tricycle. We love that part of the culture.
It’s common here in the Philippines, if you’re well-off, for relatives to borrow money from you. How do you handle that?
J: We don’t give them money. Whatever they need, we give them.
P: One of our cousins, we paid for his schooling. If anyone asks us for something, we’ll ask them, what do they need? If it’s school stuff, we get them school stuff. If it’s food, we go and buy the actual food. No cash.
J: The one that we paid for his schooling, he’s really into football now.
P: We feel that the more you give, the more you get. We’re happy to give.
How do you celebrate Christmas with your relatives?
P: Before we moved here, I had spent only one Christmas here. And it was different, ’cause it was hot. Christmas is one of the times we can actually see our family. When it’s not Christmas, we’re busy, and they’re busy working, and they’re all in Valenzuela so it’s difficult.
Why were you not included in the Peace Cup?
P: Oh, miscommunication again.
P: It’s quite a complicated issue.
The money issue isn’t true?
P: No, we don’t earn from the national team. Actually, most of the players signed contracts for that time…
J: We didn’t want to sign anything that we would be liable for.
P: At the end of the day, we were the only ones living here who didn’t sign the contract. Actually, they’ve been very nice and supportive about the whole situation. Because, actually, it went through two or three people before the news got to the person who actually needed to know the news. But when we had a meeting with the actual management involved, everything was cleared up.
What is your favorite Angel Locsin movie?
P: I’ve watched a couple… I’m always on Cinema One. Last week I watched “Unofficially Yours” again, I watched “Love Me Again.” My favorite… “In the Name of Love,” I guess, ’cause that was what she was shooting when we met. It means something to me. It was her first movie that I watched.
Do you ever get jealous?
P: No, no. It’s funny, people always ask me that. But when I see it in the movie…she was Mercedes in “In the Name of Love,” and I didn’t see her as Angel, I saw her as Mercedes. And in “Unofficially Yours,” I didn’t see her as Angel, because I knew she wasn’t like that.
So you have no trouble with kissing scenes?
P: No, no. She was an actress before she met me.
Is she ever jealous of girls around you?
P: No, no. Angel and I, we communicate all the time. She’s very understanding about everything, and I’d like to think I’m understanding with her.
Does she ask your permission to do those kissing scenes?
P: No, no, she doesn’t need to.
Does she show you the script?
P: Well, when the script arrives, I’m like, can I do it with you?
Would you be keen on doing a movie with her?
P: If it’s a good opportunity, and if it’s something I’m comfortable with, then, as I say, I never close any doors or say no to anything.
J: A football movie.
P: Yeah, something like “The Blind Side.”
For you James, you don’t have the same complications with your girlfriend, right? ’Cause she’s not a performer. But isn’t she a creative person as well?
J: Yeah, she’s a fashion designer. She designs gowns for wedding entourages. She’s really good, I really admire that.
She doesn’t get jealous?
J: She trusts me.
Are you long-term daters?
J: When I was young, I was short-term. But it’s more about how you treat each other.
P: Before Angel, I had a longtime girlfriend, five years. This was when I was living in England.
Angel’s been an actress for quite a while. She’s used to tabloids. Did she have to ease you into it?
P: Yes, she did. I learn from her, when I see her in her interviews or read what she says. She knows how to answer questions. I’m still learning. She’s been in the industry for 10 years; I’ve been in the spotlight for only two. She gives me advice.
Whenever you watch movies with characters talking fast in Tagalog, do you understand?
P: Movies, I can pretty much understand everything. Things like quick comedy, that’s more difficult. The dramas, I can understand, ’cause you speak the same way in real life. But when throwing jokes, that’s when I’m like…
J: What did they say?
Either of you planning marriage?
J: Not yet.
P: No. I think we’re good at the moment.