Backyard battles with brothers - Lewis and Joel - gave Burnley's Josh Brownhill the 'kick' he needed!
'If I scored against them, they would let me know about it!'
The Warrington-born midfielder recalled how his siblings, Lewis and Joel, would often kick lumps out of him during competitive games in the back garden.
Their dad, Gary, a lifelong Manchester City fan who played in the club's youth team during the '70s, had built a miniature Maine Road at the rear of the family's Altrincham home, a construction the trio had referred to as a 'Poundland Soccer Dome'.
The brothers played from first light until the days descended into darkness, barely coming up for air in their bid to bag the bragging rights at the 'final whistle'.
"It's been competitive since I can remember," said Brownhill. "It started off when my Dad made a mini astro arena in the garden and we used to be on that all the time, from being five years of age. It's gone on from there.
“I don’t think I really appreciated at the time what my Dad did because I was so young. He built this five-a-side pitch in the garden. It was only quite small.
"He built that and me, Lewis and Joel were in the garden playing on it every day. It was good fun and looking back, I can appreciate what my Dad did for us, in allowing us to play every day."
The 'rough and tumble' and 'blood and thunder' of those behind-closed-doors kickabouts certainly served as character-building exercises for the youngest Brownhill brother, who was admittedly small in stature.
That was the reason reported for his release from Manchester United as a 16-year-old, with coach Tommy Martin breaking the news that the teenager would be departing after spending more than a decade at Old Trafford.
Brownhill, who had started out at Broadheath FC, was snapped up by then Preston North End boss Simon Grayson, with the Lilywhites operating in League One.
That was the moment when those wars of attrition started to pay dividends. "I remember people were targeting me in the first few games that I played because I was quite small and they were trying to beat me up," said the 25-year-old.
"My brothers and my Dad helped me through that part of my career, they gave me that learning experience of how I should handle it growing up.
“I remember when I first played for Preston and I was getting kicked and it was exactly the same as what happened in our back garden.
"They would treat me as if I was their age. I was quite good at football, I could handle the football very well, so if I scored or did something against them, they didn’t like it because I was younger than them and they would let me know about it!
“They have helped me massively growing up and how to handle myself on the football pitch.”
Brownhill had a loan spell at Barnsley before going on to make 161 appearances for Bristol City in all competitions while his elder brothers continued to move in non-league circles.
Lewis, 34, who was in the RAF, has played for Hungerford Town, Kidlington FC, Northwich Victoria and Thatcham Town, who he lifted the FA Vase with in 2018 at Wembley following victory over Stockton Town.
Joel, 29, meanwhile, has had goal-scoring spells with Altrincham, Rylands FC, Ashton Athletic, the Vics and Spalding United. "Throughout my career they've helped massively," Brownhill said.
"They've played at a decent level, they've got plenty of non-league experience so that side of it, needing to be tough, they've helped me with that when growing up at Preston.
"My family's been absolutely brilliant with me and they still are. We talk a lot on a daily basis about football, things in general and everything that comes around it. We talk quite a lot."
Now 51 Premier League starts in with the Clarets, the ex-Robins middle man has yet to break his duck in the top flight. He's broken plenty of other things in the past, however.
Just don't tell his Mum, Elaine, about her precious jazz band figurines. “There are a lot of stories of us playing football in the house and breaking things in the house," he admitted. "They would go out and my big brother would look after us and we would play football inside.
“Lewis would glue them back together. If we broke something, I was way too young to fix it and he would do it. For ages my mum and dad didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Looking back, it was great fun, but the moments we broke stuff were quite scary.”