By Rebecca Palma
James Aish doesn’t remember the first time he picked up a football.
He was born into South Australian football royalty, the son of former Norwood midfielder Andrew Aish, nephew of 1981 Magarey Medallist Michael Aish, and the grandson of former Redlegs skipper Peter Aish.
Football runs in his blood and comes as second nature to the rising star.
He was the youngest player ever to make his debut in the SANFL, and was pick number 7 in last year’s AFL National Draft.
A season in, the eighteen-year-old midfielder is well settled at the Brisbane Lions.
“It’s been really good fun, I’m enjoying it and the team’s really young,” he said.
“We’re starting to play well and have a few wins too.”
Football has bought Aish friends, it’s bought him excitement and it’s bought him a track straight into a schoolboy’s dream.
Eager to share his experiences, Aish invited students from Brisbane’s Milpera State High School to join him one morning at The Gabba.
Milpera is a vibrant and unique school dedicated to the settlement and English language development of migrants and refugees.
Aish’s home-away-from-home is worlds away from anything his guests had left behind.
The group of 17 were seated, and in front of the unfamiliar Aish, fell silent.
He told the teens of his own childhood and football journey before leading them on a tour of The Gabba and its many facilities.
The young footballer’s charisma and warm smile soon thawed the quiet group.
It wasn’t long before Aish was being asked question after question, the students coming to life with jokes and laughter.
One of the group, sixteen-year-old Yasmin Ali, moved from Somalia to Australia with her family a year ago.
Yasmine spoke of growing up amid war, drought, famine and utter devastation in her home country.
Yasmine explained that in Somalia she was deprived of the right to education and to play sport.
“Female Somali athletes are scared by Al Shabaab (militant Islamist group) because they see sport as un-Islamic,” Yasmine said.
“They think that sport is the devil’s thing and they stone girls who play sports, so I didn’t play.”
Like many of her peers, Yasmin’s English skills have developed quickly since attending Milpera and she’s expecting to move onto further education soon.
Out on the grounds of the Gabba, red Sherrins fly in all directions and any sign of difference, be it race, religion or gender had been quickly forgotten.
Before moving to Australia, Yasmin and her schoolmates had never heard of AFL, seen a game, or even thought to play. Now each of them has been able to kick a footy around with some of our best.
Each was effervescent as they lined up to practice goal kicking, regardless of the outcome.
One of the joys of Australian Rules football is the way it can bring people from different backgrounds together.
Aish clearly relished the opportunity to introduce his guests to his treasured sport and teammates.
“Hopefully you guys can get a bit of a taste of it and maybe one day you could all play as well,” he said.