Families in Football: Brothers Craig and Gary Gardner
A midfielder by trade, Craig Gardner’s versatility meant he was often one of the first to switch positions during an injury crisis. A product of Aston Villa’s youth system, Gardner rose through ranks and turned professional in January 2005. He made his first-team debut in December of the same year coming on as a substitute.
Following 80 games and six goals, many coming from the right-back position and also earning international recognition playing for England’s U21 side, Birmingham City announced their interest in signing Gardner.
A fee believed to be £3 million plus £500,000 in add-ons was agreed in January 2010 and Gardener made the short trip from Villa Park to Birmingham’s St Andrews.
Gardner would spend just one and a half years at City; however, he did help them lift their first trophy since 1963 as they won the 2011 League Cup Final defeating Arsenal. 52 appearances and 11 goals later, the former Aston Villa man was on the move again.
During the summer of 2011, a £6 million fee was agreed that would take the midfielder to Sunderland where he would sign a three-year deal. His career on Wearside did not begin smoothly falling out of favour with the then-Sunderland manager Steve Bruce. However, a change of fortunes arrived when Bruce was sacked and replaced with his former manager at Villa Martin O’Neil.
Deployed mainly as a right-back during O’Neil’s time at the club, Gardner became a dependable player whilst scoring some crucial and sometimes spectacular goals.
Singing in The Away End at Newcastle
With the Black Cats struggling, O’Neil was replaced by Paolo Di Canio. Gardner started Di Canio’s first game in charge but a yellow card meant he would be suspended for the next game, a trip to rivals Newcastle United.
As Gardner was suspended, Di Canio took the unusual step of allowing his player to travel with the Sunderland fans to Newcastle and be amongst them in the away end. The midfielder was seen singing with fans on the way to the ground and celebrating as he watched his teammates thrash their rivals 3-0.
The following season saw Gardner enter into the final year of his contract and become less of a fixture in the first team. At the end of the 2013-14 season, a move back to the Midlands was agreed. He left Wearside in 2014 after 100 appearances and scoring 14 goals
A return to the Midlands saw Gardner sign for his third club in the region. Once again a three-year deal was signed. This time at West Bromwich Albion. Gardner was a first-team regular at the Hawthorns as he helped the club stay in the Premier League.
In January 2017 he moved to the Championship for the first time in his career, returning to former club Birmingham on loan. The loan deal was made permanent in the summer of the same year.
Two years later, Gardner was appointed as player-coach as he began to wind down his playing career. Gardner called time on his playing career following 391 games and 42 goals during the 2019-20 season.
Gary, six years his brother’s junior had a similar path to first-team football as Craig. Rising through the ranks at Aston Villa’s academy he caught the eye of fans and staff alike with a string of excellent performances. One of these was in a 10-1 demolition over Arsenal reserves where Gardner would score twice and also provide two assists.
A loan move to Coventry City provided Gardner with his first opportunity to experience competitive first-team football. It didn’t take long for him to adapt, scoring just nine minutes into his debut.
An injury crisis at Villa prompted the club to recall the youngster and he made his Premier League debut on December 31 as a substitute. Gardner would become a regular for the first team for the remainder of the season.
Second Major Injury and More Loan Moves
As the following season was getting underway, a serious injury would rule the central midfielder out for almost the entire season. Earlier in his career as a youth, an anterior cruciate ligament injury ruled him out of action for 18 months. The same injury, this time to his other knee would halt his career once again.
Gardner would make his long-awaited playing comeback to the first team on the last day of the 2012/13 season.
With Gardner desperate to regain match fitness, he went out on loan three times in two years. His destinations were Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton, and Nottingham Forest before finally returning to Villa permanently following their relegation to the Championship.
A first-team regular for Villa during the 2016/17 season was brought to an end the following season following a number of players being bought to aid them back to the Premier League. Gardner would find himself out on loan again.
Two seasons out on loan at Barnsley and Birmingham City were followed by a permanent move away. Just like his brother several years earlier, Gary made the short trip from Villa Park to St Andrew’s in a permanent deal when his loan deal ended in 2019. He remains at Birmingham to this day where he continues to be a first-team regular.
Craig and Gary Gardner: On Opposite Sides In The Premier League and Finally Playing Together at Birmingham City
The two brothers finally lined up together in a competitive game when Aston Villa faced Sunderland in the Premier League. However, they would not be teammates but rivals with Craig playing for the Black Cats and Gary for Villa.
Speaking ahead of the game, elder brother Craig discussed the rare situation of brothers playing each other in the Premier League. He said: “I played with him at Villa for the reserves, but never in a proper match.
“It’s a rare thing for brothers to play each other in the top flight. It will be a proud moment for the whole family, for especially mum and dad who did everything for us as kids, ferrying us around the country and Europe.
“We can have a laugh and joke here [on the golf course] 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.
“If there’s a tackle there between us we’ll both go for it. Just like you’d tackle anyone and try and win it fairly.”
The game ended 0-0 with Craig being sent off in front of his watching family late in the game following a second yellow card.
Some years later the brothers finally got to play competitively in the same team when they featured together for Birmingham City, becoming only the second brothers to do so for the Blues. Craig and Gary Gardner remain together at the Blues today.