Italian football fan, Alessandro Colombini, waited patiently for Derry City footballer, Patrick McEleney, outside the changing rooms at Brandywell Stadium last month.
Nineteen year-old Alessandro had made the 5,000kms roundtrip for the game against Limerick and for this moment. He was determined to savour every second of it.
“Paddy [McEleney] looked at me like I was an alien - he must have thought I was mad,” Alessandro told the ‘Journal’.
Alessandro is from Livorno in Tuscany and has been interested in Derry since he read a book about Bloody Sunday when he was 16.
Alessandro describes himself as a “communist” and has an insatiable appetite for Irish politics but he also has a great love for a computer game called ‘Football Manager’.
The computer game provided Alessandro with the opportunity he was waiting for - to combine his love of football with his love for Derry. Alessandro loaded the game onto his computer and quicker than you can say ‘1989 Treble winners’, he was leading his beloved Derry City into the Champions League.
“I wanted to meet Patrick after the game because I wanted to tell him how good of a player he is for me in ‘Football Manager’. I told him I was from Italy and that he was brilliant in the game. I don’t think he knew how to react but he gave me his autograph and we had a good laugh about it.”
Alessandro continued: “I’ve been managing Derry City in ‘Football Manager’ for the last two or three years. I had my best season last year when I took Derry to the Champions League but AS Roma offered me the chance to come and manage them and as football fans know, when Roma ask, you must answer,” he laughed.
Social media played a vital part in helping Alessandro to develop his relationship with Derry. After making some new friends from Derry on Facebook, Alessandro and two friends from Livorno and Pisa respectively travelled to Derry to cheer on the ‘Candystripes’ against Limerick at the Brandywell.
“I’m a communist and I have been interested in things like Bloody Sunday and Bobby Sands since I was 16. I read Bobby Sands’ diary, the one he kept while in jail when I was young.
“I heard about Derry City through a guy called Caolán Doherty from the Red Partisans Ultras of Derry City FC. We met on Facebook and we soon started exchanging items such as scarves and jerseys. I would send him on items from Livorno and he would send me on items from Derry - we have developed a great relationship between the two teams,” added Alessandro.
The trip to Ireland lasted just over a week with Alessandro and his two friends spending three days in Derry before moving on to Dublin and Belfast.
“I loved Derry and all the guys that we met were so kind to us - they treated us like brothers,” he said.
Next month, Alessandro will move from Livorno to Pisa where he will study history at the local university there. The Italian football fanatic is also researching material for a book about a the relationship between football, politics and religion in the North of Ireland.
Paddy looked at me like I was an alien - he must have thought I was madAlessandro Colombini
“I am working with a publisher called Urbone Publishing - the book will be called ‘Strikers’ - I wanted to call it that because of the link between the term striker in football and obviously the link the word has with the Hunger Strikers of 1981.”