The BBC is launching its summer of women’s sport #changethegame campaign on 1 May and who better to kick it off than two people who are leading England into women’s World Cups this summer – twins Phil and Tracey Neville.
They were born 12 minutes apart, and Phil Neville jokes it is the only moments of peace he’s ever had from twin sister Tracey.
You imagine they are the sort of twins who finish each other’s sentences, who have an intuition for exactly what the other is thinking at any given time. Most twins have an unbreakable bond, but this duo’s pride and love for each other is on another level entirely.
Perhaps it’s the family from which they come. Sport runs through the veins of the Neville clan, but family always comes first.
Older brother Gary is “more intense”, they say. In contrast, Phil and Tracey are the “laid-back” siblings, the ones who joke, smile and play.
Maybe that’s the reason they both now hold such prestigious – and almost identical – jobs. Tracey, the elder by those all-important 12 minutes, is the head coach of England’s netball team; Phil is the manager of the England women football team.
It’s that laid-back trait that will hold the 42-year-olds in good stead this summer when both face perhaps the biggest tests of their careers – leading their teams into their sports’ respective World Cups.
“It’s mum we feel sorry for,” they say.
The Neville twins on… men’s v women’s sport
Tracey reckons she’s a better footballer than former Manchester United, Everton and England midfielder Phil. In turn, Phil thinks he’d make a superb centre on the netball court.
Sport is sport for these two. Growing up, there was never ‘men’s sport’ or ‘women’s sport’ in the Neville family home – but Tracey, of course, did later learn they were seen as different entities.
“I never noticed a difference in our house because mum and dad created opportunities for us,” she says.
“I only started to notice a difference when I was about 14 – when Phil and Gary were getting contracts at Manchester United and I was still doing my GCSEs, my A-levels.”
When Phil was considering the Lionesses job, he spoke to Tracey about it and she was the driving force behind him going for it.
He was appointed in January 2018 and faced criticism for his lack of experience in the women’s game.
“My argument is that I have grown up with a female elite athlete and have first-hand experience of what female athletes have gone through to sacrifice themselves, the challenges they’ve had, so I thought I was in a really good position,” he says.
It has, however, still proved a learning curve.
“At Everton and United we just locked ourselves away behind the walls of the training ground and were probably insular in terms of our outlook on everything,” Phil adds.
“We brought [England hockey captain and Olympic gold medallist] Alex Danson in and she was unbelievable, and the stories she told inspired my players.
“Then Tracey and I had been talking about doing something fun between netball and football. The minute they walked in, my players looked up to these netball players like they were gods because they had won the gold medal.”
The Neville twins on… nerves and family pride
Phil was waiting to board a budget flight at Luton Airport when he learned ofEngland’s Commonwealth gold medalin netball last April.
When theLionesses won the SheBelieves Cupfor the first time in March, Tracey was sitting in a sleepy bar in the Lake District and watching on her mobile phone.
They are each other’s most passionate supporter yet have the rare knowledge of what the other is facing.
“Our careers have mirrored as we have come through,” says Tracey.
“But I probably get more nervous for Phil because you’re not part of that process; you’re not part of the journey he’s been on.”
During his playing career, Phil won six Premier League titles with United, as well as three FA Cups and the Champions League.
But he counts Tracey’s achievements, both as a player and coach, as “some of the best moments” of his life.
“I just want Tracey to be happy, to have done her job well and for people to think nicely of her,” he says.
“Last year was one of the best moments of my sporting life, seeing this daft England coach jumping on her players at the end of the game and I could say: ‘That’s my sister.’
“They are great moments that probably make me and Gary more emotional than the moments we have had in our careers.”
The Neville twins on… Gary
Ask Phil and Tracey to describe older brother Gary in one word, and their responses are identical: “Intense.”
The former Manchester United and England right-back – who now works as a TV football pundit – is two years their senior, but the family “never fell out” and it’s clear there is a lot of love for their big brother.
The siblings’ father, Neville, passed away in 2015, and Phil says Gary has taken on the “dad role” in the years since.
The Neville twins on… creating a legacy
It’s a big summer ahead for the Neville family.
Phil’s Lionesses – ranked third in the world – are among the favourites to lift the World Cup in Lyon on 7 July, while Tracey’s netballers also have a great chance of winning on home soil later that month.
But for both, winning trophies isn’t the be all and end all. It’s what gets left behind that counts.
“It’s about women going out there and playing top-level sport with so much respect,” Phil says.
“We’ve lifted the bar with our ambition, but whether we win or lose the tournament, there will be a legacy coming out of this World Cup.
“It will be the greatest World Cup of all time. It will be watched by more people around the world than ever – so, for me, it’s a win-win situation.”
Tracey, who has coached England since 2015, adds: “You start to look at someone like [Sir] Alex Ferguson who ran that [Manchester United] team over 20 years – he is probably one of the most inspirational coaches. That’s the kind of legacy that I want to leave in netball.
“I don’t know how long my career is going to last – but it’s about the legacy.”