By James Callow

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  Martin Sinclair of England Senior C P Squad during the England CP Squad training session at St Georges Park on October 26, 2014 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 26: Martin Sinclair of England Senior C P Squad during the England CP Squad training session at St Georges Park on October 26, 2014 in Burton-upon-Trent, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Closest will always be his parents, brothers Scott and Jake, who play for Aston Villa and the Southampton U21s respectively, his wife Kathleen and children Lily and Harvey.
But Sinclair is proud to be one of tens of thousands in this country to have cerebral palsy, and knows that as an England CP international preparing for next month’s World Championship at St. George’s Park, he can inspire a new generation.
“Scott said to me: ‘I play in the Premier League but I cannot inspire someone like you can. You’re a role model to everyone in that little family,'” Sinclair, 28, said.
“That’s what we are – a family of people with CP – and we can give that hope, that belief.
“We want to give role models for young people – that’s what we want to bring as the Cerebral Palsy team.
“And I thought: ‘I can do that. I can help with that.'”
Sinclair smiles, laughs a little, and thinks back to harder times.
He was born with cerebral palsy, but threw himself into football, playing for Twerton Athletic with a limp but no shortage of skill.

“I had a bit of name-calling. People couldn’t understand how I was playing football and doing most things,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to play professionally but I was probably better than most.
“My manager Andy Nicholson had to fight to get me into the league. A manager from another team called up to say they didn’t want me to play because I was disabled.”
But Sinclair played on, no doubt with a smile on his face, until the accident that put his life on hold.
“It was when I was 15,” he recalls. “I was taking my best mate’s daughter down a slide and I came off the edge and landed straight on my hip.
“I went to hospital and they said it was a pulled ligament – I’d actually dislocated it.
He continues: “If someone without CP dislocates their hip it drops down. People with CP have tighter muscles, so my hip slid upwards.
“I had the growth plate removed from my leg. I had botox, traction and about eight operations. I was in a wheelchair for about four years. Then I had a zimmer frame because I couldn’t use crutches.”
Then Sinclair shrugs: “At the end of the day I coped with it. There are people out there who are much worse off than me.
“My mum and dad, Sally and Martin Snr, have always looked at the positives of my disability. They didn’t wrap me up in cotton wool.

England CP international Martin SinclairEngland CP international Martin Sinclair

“It’s not just them – it’s my aunties, uncles and my nan. I am the way I am because of my family.”
Sinclair threw himself back into football as soon as he could walk again.
“Scott started out at Bristol Rovers and I was watching his game and he was living my dream.
“Then [after joining Chelsea] Scott was down on loan with Plymouth Argyle with Ian Holloway.
“I knew Ian from Bristol Rovers. I had done my Level 1 coaching course and he invited me down to do some coaching.
“Then I realised they had a pan-disability team. They usually have a game at the end of the season and it was against Liverpool.
“There was an England scout there, Gary Knight, and I scored two.

Martin Sinclair with his brother Scott in 2012Martin Sinclair with his brother Scott in 2012

“I got invited for a trial for the England development team. I did well and after Beijing I was called up for the England first team.”
Sinclair can barely remember how many caps he has – but the ability to say he is an England international is something he cannot put a value on.
“As a disabled person I never thought I would be going around the world, playing for England.
“I’m so glad I found out about England CP. If you’re into football and have CP you think: ‘What can I do now?’ There’s no platform. Nothing to look forward to.
“The Paralympics changed all that. If you’re in a wheelchair you can aspire to be David Weir. If you lose a leg you can be Jonny Peacock. You might not get there but you can try.”
Sinclair talks openly about his limp – and he takes great pleasure in pulling his brothers’ legs. Scott, 26, may have represented England Under-21s, while 20-year-old Jake has a promising career ahead of him, but neither has worn the Three Lions at Senior level.
“I lay my caps on the table I tell them ‘I’m the England international,'” he said. “It’s just a bit of banter between brothers.”

Southampton forward Jake SinclairSouthampton forward Jake Sinclair

Sinclair typifies the atmosphere around England CP – where the smiles and laughter are just as noticeable as the condition the players share.
“This is a great squad to be with, and the staff are great,” he said. “We can have a bit of mickey-taking about our disability but it’s getting so much more professional.
“We got a bit of coverage from the Paralympics and hopefully we can get more exposure at the World Championships, and get more players involved.”
And play the game with a smile?
“If you have a smile on your face then you have an aura,” he said.
“Look at this squad – we’re all smiling and happy – people want to approach you and get to know you, and they want you to do well.”
Sinclair wants to spread that message, from Treloar School in Hampshire where he works as a learning support assistant for children with disabilities, to St. George’s Park and a global audience this summer.
“I’m grateful to Treloar School for giving me time to focus on playing football, ” he said.
“Sport is the best thing for people with a disability. It brings confidence, self-esteem, the smile back on your face. It opens doors to everything else.
“You see some people who don’t want the attention or don’t want to get hurt and that’s not a bad thing.
“But sometimes if you come out of your comfort zone you can break down the barriers – one at a time.”

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