Scott & Martin Sinclair: Brothers in arms – a tale of courage
The brothers have both been picked to play football for GB. One is a Premier League star, the other is a Paralympian. Martin Hardy meets an inspirational pair
Scott Sinclair answers quickly. He has to. Beating his brother Martin to the punch is not easy. Scott is the Premier League footballer with the world at his feet. Martin is the older brother; sharp, bright and driven. Eight years ago, Martin was at the top of a slide. Seconds later, he was at the bottom. "Oh, I'm the more proud brother," says Scott. "Definitely." And for once, Martin struggles for words.
In most families this would be Scott's moment. Having moved to Chelsea from Bristol Rovers as a youngster, he was loaned out six times during his five years at Stamford Bridge, starting just five Premier League games for Chelsea in that time. Then came Swansea and 35 goals in two seasons. When Stuart Pearce was formulating a young Olympic squad with the burgeoning talent to go further on the international stage, the name of 23-year-old Scott Sinclair seemed obvious. He was in – only his brother had beaten him to it.
Martin had been playing in a park as a teenager when he came off a slide. "For everything a reason," he smiles. Hearing that alone should dispel much of any smouldering cynicism that exists for the forthcoming Olympic Games.
It was not an average fall.
The ball and socket had come out of his hip. He was not x-rayed. For two weeks, in agony, his mum and dad stretched him out, believing the initial diagnosis, that it was a pulled ligament.
He paid a huge cost. For the next three years, Martin was confined to a wheelchair. "It was two weeks [before the proper diagnosis]," he says. "I was supposed to have an operation on my hand. When I went into hospital in a wheelchair they decided to x-ray my hip as well.
"I had a hip replacement at 21, so in total I was in and out of hospital for eight years and I was in a wheelchair for three and a half years."
It is a crushing story. Or at least it could have been. Martin had been born with cerebral palsy but it had not deterred his footballing ambitions. Nor did his fall.
"I was diagnosed at birth but I didn't really know I had a disability when I broke my hip and my cerebral palsy and my muscle tone took over and my leg went shorter," he says. "It didn't help when I was misdiagnosed.
"Now I've got a three-inch raise. It's like a platform so I feel a bit like Buffalo Bill going down the street! I just wanted to play football anyway and now I've got the opportunity."
The professional footballer, the younger brother, puts it into context.
"It must have been so hard for him at the time when he was in the wheelchair and he couldn't play football and was seeing me and my little brother playing. It kills you to think about what he went through. I don't think I'll ever really know mentally how he coped with that, I could only really see it from the outside. I'm just so proud of what he's done and what he's been through."
Scott and his younger brother Jake (17 and now at Southampton), played on, smashing mirrors in the family home of their parents. Martin was determined to play again.
His chance came when Scott was at Plymouth (on loan) and Ian Holloway was in charge. "He said I could have a role coaching football in the summer with football in the community and then that's when I found out there was a disabled side," says Martin. "It was a real breakthrough. Not straightaway but a year later it was."
They still looked to each other for support. "Scott kept me going when times were hard, he kept visiting me in the hospital. He's a great brother. He's always there for me, always phoning."
And Scott's take on things? "Martin keeps me level headed, he keeps my feet firmly on the floor. If I'm having a hard time, if I'm not scoring, it helps that I realise it's not all about me. I just have to talk to my brother and he just puts my situation in perspective.With the pressures of football, not scoring seems like the end of the world but one phonecall to my brother puts things in the right place."
The support worked. As Scott was flourishing in the Premier League at Swansea, an England scout was watching Martin. He was picked for his country. Then came the Olympic call. For three months he goaded Scott.
"I started giving him banter as soon as I was selected in April," he says. "I kept asking him what it was like to be sweating on a place. But it was a proud moment for the Sinclair family when Scott was selected as well. I never thought I would be in this situation eight years ago when I broke my hip, so it's a great effort from both of us."
There are nine and a half days to the start of the Olympics when the Sinclairs tell their story, on the eve of Great Britain's friendly with Brazil at the Riverside Stadium. They are in the drawing room, in the plush surroundings of Rockliffe Hall, the sumptuous spa hotel that sits next to Middlesbrough's training ground.
Scott is wearing a taut, white Olympic t-shirt. Martin is sat beside him, in a red, white and blue Olympic tracksuit top. There is occasional, playful teasing from Martin. He hunted out Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs to sit with in the canteen, rather than be next to his brother.
"I've seen him enough!"
The poignancy comes from Scott.
"I'm so proud of him. He's been through so much in his life. Being in a wheelchair for two or three years after breaking his hip and then being misdiagnosed by the doctors was a lot to go through, but he still managed to battle through it. He's had such a tough time. This is his story. I'm happy to take the second seat here. It's all about my brother and what he's been through. I'm just so happy for him. It's nice for him to take the spotlight and be able to tell his story to everyone."
Martin adds: "It's the first time two British brothers have taken part in the Olympics and Paralympics. That makes it more special. Everything happens for a reason. Had I not broken my hip, I probably wouldn't be in the Team GB Paralympic football team." Humbling.
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