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Footy in the blood for young Salem

Callum Twomey  May 3, 2013 9:57 AM

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Christian Salem in action for AIS-AFL Academy

I was happy with my year last year but have got to build on that
CHRISTIAN Salem was two years old when his older brother Andre had him practicing his left-foot kick, making Christian drop for 10 push-ups if he messed one up.

Soon enough footballs were flying up and down the Salem home's corridors, with the pair, and other brother James, regularly knocking over vases and denting walls.

A few years later, Christian had so much of the ball at AFL Auskick matches that within two weeks parents of other kids wanted him moved into an older, more mature, age group.

"It was so funny. We went for the first time and watched Christian dominate the whole ground," says Christian's mum Mary.

"We were just looking at each other giggling, and saying 'Oh, look at Christian'. And then after a couple of weeks, parents started saying 'This is not fair, this boy's too big, he should be in an older group'. And I remember saying 'He's only five!'"

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Family is threaded throughout Salem's football story, and still is, as the 17-year-old Sandringham Dragons midfielder works his way towards getting drafted this year.

Salem's first football memory is sitting in the loungeroom, watching Essendon play every week among his family.

And when he wasn't at home, he was at the local park, watching Andre and James play for Brighton Grammar. From the moment he touched a footy he recalls being enamoured by it, and not wanting to let it go.

"I took it everywhere," Salem told AFL.com.au on the AIS-AFL Academy's recent tour of Europe.

"I even took one to school in my pocket, one of the key-ring footballs. It comes from my brothers, they made a big impact on me."

None of the Salem boys would know much of Australian football, though, if it wasn't for some decisions made by their father, Alex, a long time ago.

Alex Salem was born in Lebanon as one of 10 siblings. He grew up there until he was 14, before he moved to America with his family. He started working immediately, and took up a job cleaning dishes at a Cleveland restaurant.

Alex visited Melbourne for a holiday years later, and fell in love with the town, so returned to live in Australia after 11 years in America to start his own restaurant.

Now, Andre and James manage and run two of the family restaurants in Brighton. In school holidays, Christian also chips in with some work.

"Dad's a really strong man," Christian says. "He's always providing advice for the family, for all of us."

Though Alex grew up playing volleyball, hundreds of football games have broadened his passion and interest in it.

He and Mary were two of many parents on the Academy's two-week trip to Europe last month, but it should not surprise they were there.

Alex is yet to miss one of Christian's games, dating back to when he was out-pointing the kids around him at Auskick.

A storm in Sydney once threatened to see him miss a game, delaying a return flight.  

"I asked the airline hostess 'What time are we going to take off? My son's playing a game of football' and she said 'We'll take off when we're ready," Alex says.

"That was a pretty funny day. I was so worried about missing that game. I was worried that Christian wasn't going to be able to say 'Dad's here'. But I got in the car and rushed there and arrived in the third quarter."

Alex drives a quiet and composed Christian to every game he plays, and Christian is aware of his dad's unbroken run.

"He keeps drilling it into me. I've looked back on that a few times and every time he tells me I think 'Wow'. My mum's the same and so are my brothers and sister Jen. It's quite comforting to know they're there," he says.

"I can't even begin to explain how much effort my family has put in and it's got to the point where everything I'm doing from here on is basically because of them."

Salem is doing a good job of things. Last year he represented Vic Metro at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, and he will play an even bigger role this year as one of the side's most promising midfielders.

He's balanced and skillful and, importantly, calm; on the field, and off it when looking ahead to the draft's many possibilities.  

"I'm excited," he says.

"I'm not really nervous because you can only control so much. I was happy with my year last year but have got to build on that, and who knows where it will end up."

Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.