How Cristiano Ronaldo influence and sibling rivalry put Chelsea stars on path to FA Cup history
Throughout their childhood, Reece and Lauren James became accustomed to celebrating Chelsea's success. Premier League titles were won. A Champions League triumph enjoyed. And then there was the FA Cup, which the Blues claimed four times in six seasons between 2006 and 2012.
"Whenever there was a Chelsea final, we always watched it," says Reece, who then breaks out into a smile and adds: "But when we were younger, they were winning trophies frequently, so there were too many to remember really well."
Chelsea's relentless pursuit of silverware hasn't waned in the years since. This season the men's side has won the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup. The women, meanwhile, were crowned WSL champions, having seen off a strong challenge from Arsenal. And this weekend, both teams are hoping to be crowned FA Cup champions.
On Saturday, Reece and his teammates take on Liverpool at Wembley. Less than 24 hours later, Lauren will be part of the Chelsea women's squad that faces Manchester City. Two finals. Two days. The same pitch. And potentially, a place in FA Cup history: the first brother and sister to win the competition.
"It would be a great piece of history to have," says Reece. "We're both looking forward to it. Our aim is to win both trophies. I'll be supporting her, and she'll be supporting me." Lauren adds: "It will be a big occasion at Wembley, but I have to look at it as another game. But of course, it will be a special moment if we win."
Reece is coming to the end of his third campaign in the Chelsea first team; Lauren her first following a move from Manchester United last summer. For their father, Nigel, it's a source of great pride to have two of his children playing for the club the family has long supported.
"He's played a big part by coaching us alongside clubs, giving us guidance, and keeping us grounded, so we stayed focused," says Lauren. Her older brother then adds: "He's had a big influence on where we are today – and is proud of both of us representing Chelsea. To represent the club is a great feeling. We both have put in a lot of hard work, in football and away from football, to get to where we are. It hasn't just happened."
Growing up, Lauren's passion for football was moulded by Reece and their brother Joshua, who spent time in Fulham's academy. The siblings, naturally competitive, all pushed each other to make the best of themselves. It certainly paid off. "I think that drove us both to where we are today," admits Reece. "Every brother and sister – or any sibling –will have that competitive edge."
The FA Cup hasn't been kind to the men's side in recent years: Chelsea have reached four of the previous five finals but only once have come away with the trophy. Reece has experienced two of the defeats, against Arsenal and Leicester City. It's something he wants to change this time around.
"We've been in the final the last two years and lost them. So that isn't nice, and hopefully this year we can change that," he says. "The aim is always to win trophies."
Reece is almost guaranteed to start his final, but Lauren may have to be content with a place on the bench. Emma Hayes has carefully managed the 20-year-old throughout the campaign following her arrival; it's why she has only made six WSL appearances this term. "It was a slow start," Lauren explains. "And since I've come back, they're taking their time with me. They're building me up, so I don't keep breaking down."
The position Reece will be deployed in by Thomas Tuchel is less clear-cut. He has played predominantly as a wing-back this season but was drafted into right centre-back on multiple occasions last month. It's a position he played when in the club's academy and one in which he looked comfortable alongside the evergreen Thiago Silva.
"Everyone can see what he brings whenever he sets foot on the pitch," says James. "He is quality. He's a good professional and a good person, he wouldn't be playing at 37 years old at the highest level if he wasn't. He's a great person, a great leader, and a great footballer.
"It helps a lot, and his experience helps a lot. He's been around in the game a long time and has played many good games – and probably many bad games as well. And that all helps."
It is, however, another 37-year-old Premier League star who James has looked up to throughout his career: Cristiano Ronaldo. "The way he conducts himself, he's a role model on and off the pitch," says the 22-year-old. "He wants the best for himself and his career, and that's why he's one of the best in the world in his late 30s."
Unlike Ronaldo, James will not need to use the FA Cup final as a springboard to his ascent to the top of the European game. He is already one of the best full-backs in the European game: a devastating attacking force and a reliable defensive presence. The academy graduate will hope to showcase that at Wembley on Saturday.
Then will come the turn of Lauren, a young forward capable of the spectacular. And if come Sunday night both siblings have medals around their necks and their names in the history books, then you suspect it's an FA Cup weekend that both will remember for a long time.