IN the second of our two-part interview with the parents of Manchester United and England star Phil Jones, AASMA DAY finds out about when the big clubs cames clamouring for him and how he is still an ordinary Lancashire lad at heart despite his fame and fortune.
Lying on his lilo soaking up the holiday sunshine, Phil Jones heard his mobile phone ringing and idly answered.
The next minute, he was almost spluttering with shock and, after finishing the surreal conversation, the first people he called were parents Helen and Mark back home in Leyland, near Preston.
The couple were out shopping when Phil called saying: “You’ll never guess who’s just called me? Sir Alex Ferguson!”
Phil, now 22, who grew up in Farington and then Leyland, began playing football at the age of eight for seven-a-side team Ribble Wanderers and was scouted by Blackburn Rovers and taken on as an Academy player.
It was a dream come true for the Lancashire lad who had supported Blackburn since he was a youngster and had even been a mascot for them at the age of nine.
Phil began training with the senior Blackburn team and made his debut with the first team at age 17.
Dad Mark, 53, who has supported Blackburn all his life says: “It seemed miraculous when Phil was suddenly playing for the team I had always rooted for.”
Mum Helen, 48, said: “What was so jaw-dropping was that Phil’s position was centre-back which was such a key position at such a young age.”
Once Phil got into Blackburn’s first team towards the end of the season, he played nine games and the following season, his footballing prowess attention from bigger clubs.
Things happened so quickly, Phil only ended up making 40 first team appearances for Blackburn before leaving for Manchester United.
Wistfully, Mark says: “It is just a shame Phil did not get to play for Blackburn a bit longer. But all these clubs were interested in him and Phil knew the next stage in his career was improving himself at a bigger club.
“Phil loved Blackburn as he had supported them all his life and he is still a huge fan.
“Blackburn did everything they could to keep Phil and even offered him a lucrative income and the captaincy to stay.
“The only reason Phil left was because all these other clubs were interested and it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.”
Clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City pursued Phil and, together with his agent, Phil went to see them all.
And then he got the magical telephone call from then Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mark says: “Phil did not talk to any clubs without permission from Blackburn Rovers. Alex Ferguson rang Phil personally and told him he liked the way he played and wanted to meet him.
“Phil met with Alex Ferguson and told us things just clicked and felt right and he was really impressed with the club.”
Helen says: “Once Manchester United come calling, it is very hard to say, ‘no’.
“We just wanted him to be happy. I did not want him to go to a club that was too big and just be dumped on a bench.
“But Phil is now in his third year of a five-year contract at United and has played 91 times.
“Phil initially told us if he played 20 to 25 games a season, he would be happy.
“He started more often than not under Alex Ferguson and it seems the same under David Moyes.”
Not long before Phil left Blackburn to join United, Rovers played against United and lost 7-1.
Phil and his family later learned that Fergie had seen something special in Phil during that match – his never-say-die attitude.
Helen explains: “Alex Ferguson saw Phil’s desire to win and his determination and leadership skills.
“We also learned Sir Alex had initially spotted Philip when he played against United’s youth team at the age of 16 and had been monitoring him since then.”
Phil joined Manchester United in June 2011 for a transfer fee believed to be at least £16.5m.
As they sit in their armchairs happily enthusing about their son, Helen and Mark are brimming with pride at Phil’s achievements.
However, they are as equally proud of daughter Laura, 24, who is a qualified teacher who works as a senior teaching assistant specialising in special needs.
And although they live in a nice home, it is certainly not a mansion.
Laughing, Helen admits: “When people first learned Phil had signed for Manchester United, they kept asking ‘When are you moving?’
“I think some people expect us to live in a mansion!
“But we are not interested in materialistic things and they are not important to Phil either.
“Phil likes a good lifestyle but he is not ruled by money.
“We are just a normal family who have a son with a talent for football.”
It is clear Helen and Mark have given Phil a good upbringing which has kept him grounded despite his wealth and fame. Helen says: “Even though Phil is now wealthy, he does not behave differently. He is not a show-off or arrogant or cocky.
“Phil knows the difference between rubbish and quality and his income means he can enjoy the better things in life.
“But he will still call me and say things like: ‘Mum, I went to Sainsbury’s to buy a few bits and it came to £60!’
“He doesn’t like to be ripped off.”
Unlike some footballers who court fame and like the limelight, Phil’s parents say he prefers to live a normal life.
Helen says: “We would like to think people look at Phil and think he is a nice lad.
“We hope his morals and the way we have brought him up will stand him in good stead for the future.
“Philip has never thought of football as a way of getting in with the celebrity crowd.
“He has never wanted to be in the limelight.
“Phil often tells us he would love to sit in Nandos and have a chicken wrap without being bothered.
“Phil can’t walk around a shopping mall without being pestered. Wherever he goes, people nudge each other and whisper: ‘Is that Phil Jones?’
“But that is part and parcel of being a footballer. That’s what fame is and you can’t have it both ways.
“Phil never refuses an autograph or photograph because he knows his mum would say that was bad manners!
“If fans see someone who they watch playing football and admire, you can’t blame them for wanting an autograph or photograph.
“People pay a lot of money for football tickets and fans should be treated with respect.
“Footballers have to grow up very quickly, but I think Phil has done really well with the way he has handled fame.”
Helen and Mark watch Phil in every match both home and away and they now support Manchester United.
Laughing, Helen explains: “We never imagined we would end up supporting Manchester United as being Blackburn fans, we used to hate Man United!
“But we support Philip and support Manchester United because Philip plays for them.
“Sometimes, when we are at a match, if we hear people saying something negative about Phil, it is difficult. But we know they are entitled to their opinion. They are the paying public.
“But we also hear a lot of positive comments and that fills us with pride.”
Mark recalls: “After the (7-1) match, Phil swapped shirts with Wayne Rooney who was one of the first players to welcome Phil to Man United and described him as, ‘one of the toughest defenders I have ever played against’.”
Phil likes David Moyes and his style of training.
Mark says: “Whoever followed Alex Ferguson would have been in for a rough time.
“It is a transitional period and there is a lot of pressure.
“But Phil has not complained at all and he likes Moyes and the way he trains the team.
“Phil just puts his boots on and gets on with things the way he has always done.”
Phil still has a lot of non-football friends, including people he went to Leyland’s Balshaw High School with.
Helen says: “Philip does things with his friends from school on a regular basis and quite a few of them come to the games.
“Friends and family are very important to him.”
Proud parents Helen and Mark have kept every single newspaper cutting there has ever been of Phil and have Manchester United TV which they watch and record to disc.
Mark explains: “It is so Phil will have something to look back on after he has retired.
“However, we are hoping the day Phil retires will be a long way off in the future.”
In pride of place in Helen and Mark’s living room is a photograph showing Phil with his parents on the pitch with Manchester United’s trophy after they won the Premier League last season.
Mark says: “We were all invited to the parade and Phil described it as one of the best days of his life.
“It was the pinnacle of his career.”
Helen and Mark regularly get questioned whether it is strange to think their son is playing for United.
Mark says: “If you sit down and think about it for a moment, you start thinking, ‘it is unbelievable’, but it has been going on so long now, it has become normal.
“I always thought Phil was good enough to make it. But when he was a youngster, I never in a million years thought he would end up playing for Manchester United.”
Helen adds: “We like to think Philip is an inspiration to other young lads and that they will think: ‘Phil Jones from Leyland has made it so maybe we can.’
“It is nice to think something good has happened to a normal family.
“Philip is a sensitive, kind and caring lad who lives for his football. He is very lucky and knows this.
“He is also a very generous person – sometimes too generous. I am sure some people take advantage of him.”
When asked if Phil shares his wealth with them, his mum says simply: “Phil looks after us. He takes care of his family and is very generous.
“He is very close to us and his sister Laura. He speaks to us daily.
“I used to work as an insurance claims administrator but a few years ago, I had a health scare and Phil told me to finish work and that he would look after me.”
While Phil was growing up, Helen and Mark made many sacrifices. including changing shifts at work and standing outside in all weather to watch him play football.
But they don’t view it as a sacrifice but simply as supporting their son. Helen says: “We want both our children to be happy and if football makes Phil happy, we want him to play it.
“Our children mean everything to us.”
Mark explains: “I just love watching Phil play football.
“It is nothing to do with the money or the fame. Of course, his income takes the pressure off us all financially, but wealth and fame brings its own pressures such as a loss of privacy and making sure you don’t say the wrong thing.
“Phil’s religion is football. It is his life.
“Even if Phil was playing football down the road for a local team, we would still love watching him play. It is not about who he plays for but about watching him.
“We are just very proud of him.”