Nike FC Cup Journal: Aleks Sinclair & Oliva De La Plaza-Sanchez
Tue, May 10.22
The beautiful, warm, and humbling nature of Aleks Sinclair is immediately felt by all those in her presence. Her big, bright smile and personality fills the room as we become spectators, engaged and instilled with her overwhelming sense of joy. Whether it be on or off the pitch, Aleks is a role model to all. It was a privilege to speak with one of my very own football inspirations. Aleks, being so sincere and modest in her achievements, shared her amazing 24 year football journey with me.
At 99 caps for Calder United in Victoria’s top tier, Aleks finds herself anticipating a memorable 100 games with the girls. “I’m just waiting for the hundredth”, she says.
Aleks’ football career began at the age of 10 years old, being the only female in a Westvale Olympic boys team. At such a young age, you just want to play, with no external pressures, hoping to prove the boys wrong.
“I was the only girl”, she says. “I was actually red carded, as a boy pushed me and I was in goals, and he said, ‘you play like a girl’, and I said ‘I am a girl’, and pushed him back.”
After growing up and falling in love with the beautiful game, Aleks played five seasons at Box Hill United. The club enjoyed great success in the Victorian Women’s Premier League era, winning silverware eight times between 2001 and 2010.
In 2010, life commitments and circumstances forced Aleks to take a step back from football. She played intermittently over the next six years, across different community leagues. Halfway through 2017, she crossed over to Calder United from sister club Keilor Park. Aleks has since helped build a similar dynasty at Calder to what she experienced at Box Hill.
“I had my first full year at Calder in 2018 and I ended up getting blessed with a player’s player of the year award from all the peers, and the same again the following year.”
A player's love for football, or any passion in general, is something that is always hard to articulate. Aleks, with so much emotion and passion in speech, expresses herself in a touching way that reminds us why we play football.
“It’s just a feeling I think for me, because it’s always been my outlet and passion,” she says. “I’ve always used it as a way to not only get through life, but just be able to learn a lot about myself as a player and showcase my talent.” Aleks explains “for that 90 minutes, you’re free”. This feeling is so rare and is what makes this global game so special.
Outside of football, Aleks was working as a personal trainer until Covid-19 hit. The pandemic pushed her to pursue another passion of hers; handy work. Growing up, her dad encouraged her to help fix cars and anything around the house. She currently takes night shifts in order to balance her commitments of both work and football. Aleks talks about how she was drawn to it, and her passion emphasizes how family oriented she is.
With family playing a vital role in Aleks’ life, it is clear this is where her love for football stems from. “I started playing because of my brother,” she says. “I was playing basketball at the time, I was just running around with the ball and I couldn’t stand still.” The connection to family was beautiful to listen to, because the support of our families is something that isn’t always appreciated enough.
Aleks’ creative side also doesn’t fail to impress - her passion lies in her love for music. “I love playing guitar, I play acoustic guitar, so they have both kind of been my outlet through life.”
It is important to have balance, and Aleks has found it between family, music, handywork and football. “I’m able to do my training, go to work, rest when I get home and repeat.”
Aleks has many ambitions for her football career, including the dream of playing A-League Women’s. Having previously played at the top level - with Victoria Vision in the Women’s Nation Soccer League - she hopes to return to this level, especially with the women’s game rapidly developing. With so much talent, it is easy to get carried away, however Aleks is remarkably modest. This is what makes her such an important role model: quiet, calm and collected, yet still driven and hardworking to be the best she can be.
“Stepping back into that [top tier] would be awesome, especially having seen it change over the years, and how much it’s actually, you know, developed,” she says. “I’d like to live in the moment a little bit as well, but you know, you can always dream.”
Even the most talented footballers have heroes themselves. For Aleks, this is Thierry Henry who she calls a “freak of a player”. “He’s always been someone I’ve loved as a forward,” she says. Aleks is also inspired by her former Box Hill teammate, Daniela Digiammarco, who’s done it all. Whether it be playing W-League, coaching or having kids, “she’s always been someone I looked up to.”
Her connection to family explains why Aleks is so nurturing as a player and person. As spectators, it is rare to gain insight into the raw things that we don’t tend to see behind the scenes. Through talking to her younger Calder teammate, Olivia De La Plaza-Sanchez (“Liv”), it is clear the club has created a positive environment. It’s not everyday you meet an experienced footballer who also becomes your best friend, mentor, and role model all in one.
There was such strong emotion in Liv’s voice when talking about her connection with Aleks. Having Aleks in the room provided Liv an opportunity to speak directly about her impact as a player and person, which was really sincere and genuine. “You make everyone else happy, it’s amazing,” Liv tells Aleks.
“She’s just an inspiration to me,” Liv says. “She just doesn’t stop on the pitch, it’s amazing.”
There’s so much to learn from more experienced players, especially for the youngest in the team. It’s easy to feel intimidated, however Liv has clearly taken her position with pride and confidence, fitting into the Calder United’s senior squad. Learning from older players is just as important as learning from the youth. Young players remind veterans, like Aleks, of the pure joy of playing football, and how being a mentor and leader pushes you to be a better player, in order to set examples for those who learn in admiration.
To my surprise, I learnt that Liv hasn’t played football for all that long, only starting in 2017. Remarkably, she is now in Calder’s senior squad, and is the youngest player at only 18 years old. Liv’s attitude towards her club and football career is similar to Aleks in its modesty and sincere appreciation for the opportunities she has been provided. She explains to me how lucky she is to play for a club that is so female focused.
“It was probably the best club I could've gone to,” she explains. “The bonds that we have there are insane.”
Both Aleks and Liv hope that Calder United progress into the semi-finals of the Nike FC Cup, as they face Boroondara Eagles in the upcoming weeks. Having won the last four editions of the cup, expectations are high.
Calder United provides many young females with opportunities that are key to discovering raw, unseen talent. Both women describe the environment as “positive” and “like a family”, and their bond is visual proof. These bonds formed off the pitch clearly translate to how the women play together, emphasizing the chemistry shared between the two.
“Everyone’s so positive about the Cup”, Liv says. “We’ve got to do it again!”