Born in a refugee camp in Kenya to South Sudanese parents and moved to Australia when he was seven years old, the journey of Australian footballer Aliir Aliir, who plays for the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League (AFL), shares his journey with ESPN Australia & NZ.
Aliir tells ESPN, “One of the memories that stuck with me was, we would get balloons and blow them up and then we would get clothes and wrap them around them until it was sort of like a soccer ball.”
“If you pump up a balloon, it’s just going to pop straight away so we would wrap clothes around it. We would make probably five, and we would have little trees or whatever it is, or maybe a rock, and make that as a goal and we would play soccer until the sun goes down. If that ball pops there’s always a reserve one there and we would play again. I guess just growing up with a big family, soccer was all we did. It was one of the only sports we knew in our country.”
The Australian Football League (AFL) is the pre-eminent professional competition in the sport of Australian rules football.
Aliir’s talks about his family leaving Kenya to seek a better life in Australia.
“Coming to Australia, especially the airport, we weren’t used to seeing white people. Coming here I just felt like I was a different person and it was just strange seeing different things.
“We stayed in government housing with a fridge and things like that that we didn’t have (in Kenya).
“You’d have little pots and that’s where you would cook and there were so many things I’d never seen before.
“It was a bit strange. The buildings, just driving from the airport to the house, I was just amazed as a young kid. It was a very special moment for our family.”
He did his schooling in Brisbane saying,
“That’s where I did all my schooling and picked up basketball, footy (Australian Rules), and all these other sports,” Aliir said.
“Coming here (to Australia) the only sport I knew was soccer. Personally, sport was a way I could connect with other kids. You come into a different country, you don’t know English and you can’t really communicate with people you haven’t seen before. The only way we communicated and talked was through soccer. We didn’t even say anything, we were kicking the ball, kicking goals, celebrating.
“I guess that’s why I love sport so much because it allowed me to connect with a lot of people. It still does.”
He says he picked up a football for the first time when he was a teenager and tells EPSN,
“A few mates were having a kick and invited me to come play for Aspley Hornets, which was the junior club around the corner from my house,” Aliir said.
“I wasn’t really a fan of it but I just wanted to try new things. I’d been doing that my whole life.”
Aliir’s played soccer, basketball, and rugby preparing him for the game. His says his first coach told him,
“The coach told me to just tap the ball to your teammate, run forward and go kick a goal.”
“They were pretty much my instructions and I found it a lot easier. And as you start to pick up the game more and watch more games live and things like that, you sort of expand your knowledge of the game.”
His selection by the Sydney Swans was bittersweet because his lost his father in a car accident saying,
“My father passed away in a car accident (when I was young),” Aliir said. “The moment I got drafted, mum was in tears. She was just talking to me and said ‘this is always what your dad talked about’.
“It’s one of those things that will stay close to me.”