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Freelance sports journalist and Ross County fan Alasdair Mackenzie reflects on ‘amazing’ journey from Strathpeffer to Stadio Olimpico


By Andrew Henderson

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Alasdair Mackenzie admits he is an unusual case.

Hailing from Strathpeffer, watching football on TV in the 1990s at his grandparents’ house sparked a love for Italy that has since seen him move there permanently, working as a freelance sports journalist.

The vibrancy and culture of Football Italia may have seemed a far cry from Third Division Scottish football with Ross County at Victoria Park, but he has balanced the two loves ever since.

Joking that he may be the only supporter of both the Staggies and Lazio in the world, it may have seemed like a natural turn of events that he would find a way to merge the two professionally, but he insists that was not the case.

Alasdair Mackenzie, from Strathpeffer, now works as a freelance journalist in Italy.
Alasdair Mackenzie, from Strathpeffer, now works as a freelance journalist in Italy.

Initially studying Italian at university, it was only after spending a year in the country and graduating with his degree that he decided to enter the world of sports journalism, and he has had some awe-inspiring moments since.

“I had followed Italian football for so long that it became my speciality I guess, and that eventually led to me moving out here full time in 2018,” Mackenzie explained.

“It’s been amazing really, because a lot has happened in that time.

“The last Euros was pretty special. Rome was one of the host cities, so although Italy ended up going to Wembley to actually win the thing their opening game was right here. I got to cover that Turkey game, and all their group matches here.

“The scenes in the city were incredible. Being a Scottish Ross County fan, I’m not exactly used to these scenes of rampant celebration, so that was pretty special.

“This season I was up at the San Siro working at the Milan derby, which was the first time a title has ever been won in a derby match.

“I’ve been lucky to get some amazing access to speak to some incredible people. You do go into professional mode, but in retrospect when I think about talking to Franco Baresi, or Sandro Mazzola – these were people I grew up reading about in football history books, and I got to speak to them.

Mackenzie has interviewed legends of the Italian game, and worked at some of the biggest matches in the country across football and rugby.
Mackenzie has interviewed legends of the Italian game, and worked at some of the biggest matches in the country across football and rugby.

“It’s a strange job I guess, because it changes all the time. I freelance, so my work is very fluid. Italian football is my specialist subject, but the opportunities I get and the things I’m doing are always changing, which keeps it interesting.”

Keeping tabs on the Staggies from Italy is easier said than done.

There is no TV deal for Scottish football out there, meaning Mackenzie’s only option is social media.

It is a far cry from his favourite memories of following Ross County in Scotland, but there have been moments just as dramatic in his time overseas.

“As a fan, the biggest thing for me will always be the 2010 Scottish Cup run,” he recalled.

“It was an unbelievable time really. That whole period was so exciting – it was just a moment where we came into the public consciousness for the first time ever it felt like.

Michael Gardyne celebrates his equalising goal at Easter Road that forced a replay for Ross County in the Scottish Cup 14 years ago. Picture: Ken Macpherson
Michael Gardyne celebrates his equalising goal at Easter Road that forced a replay for Ross County in the Scottish Cup 14 years ago. Picture: Ken Macpherson

“I managed to convince my flatmates to pile into my tiny wee Fiat to come up the A9 for the replay against Hibs. We got tickets in the Jail End somehow, and Scott Boyd scoring in front of us made it a really special night. That was amazing in itself.

“For me, that was the absolute tipping point. That was when we went from being a provincial, not particularly ambitious club having been stuck in the same place for so long, to really believing in what was happening as a fanbase.

“Against Celtic, we didn’t think we were there to win. Everyone thought we were just there for the occasion, going to Hampden and having our day in the sun. That was our achievement.

“I found it so hard to compute that we won that game, and doing it in such style. I was back at Hampden for the League Cup when we beat Celtic again, and for the final when we won it, but I still look back on the 2010 cup run even more fondly just because it was that real tipping point in Ross County’s history.

“The play-off against Partick Thistle is kind of at the other end of the spectrum in terms of the emotional scale, but at the same time I did feel like it did something to us as a fanbase.

“Random people who are not particularly attached to the club would want to bring that match up, and you need those moments to ignite a fanbase.

Alasdair Mackenzie knows the impact of those unifying moments for sports teams of any level.
Alasdair Mackenzie knows the impact of those unifying moments for sports teams of any level.

“I was actually working at the Stadio Olimpico that night, so I got to see the first half then I had to leave and cycle up to the stadium. I was listening to the radio, and I think all three goals went in when I was on the bike so I was just trying not to crash.

“I was then in the press box while the penalty shoot-out was on, and there were a bunch of Italian journalists around watching me smacking the table celebrating a penalty going in, probably wondering what was wrong with me.

“It was a bit strange. I don’t know if it was a good thing or not that I couldn’t watch it, because it was just totally nerve-shredding, but it was unbelievable.”

Having come through another play-off at the end of last season against Raith Rovers, Mackenzie can look forward to another season of supporting County from afar as a Premiership team.

He is delighted to see Don Cowie take on the managerial reigns permanently, but concerns over filling the hole left by Yan Dhanda means he would settle for top flight safety once again this time next year.

Don Cowie has been given the Staggies manager's job permanently. Picture: Ken Macpherson
Don Cowie has been given the Staggies manager's job permanently. Picture: Ken Macpherson

“I’m really happy that they’ve kept on Don Cowie,” Mackenzie added.

“It’s a big test, and there’s always an element of risk attached to giving someone a job when it is an emotional tie.

“Let’s not kid around with that, but the fact that he led the club to the end of the season and achieved what he set out to – the difference between this play-off and the last one was that we were actually looking alright.

“I just love Don Cowie too. He’s from Strathpeffer as well, he’s an absolutely legend and one of my favourite County players. I definitely have the emotional attachment to him.

“The biggest problem is going to be finding a way to replace Yan Dhanda.

”Every year we see the County Russian roulette of spinning the wheel of signings, and quite often the ones you expect to be good are never heard from again, and the ones who you never heard of become good players.

“Dhanda was the rarest of thing where he seemed like a good idea at the time, and he actually did turn out to be brilliant. He’s going to take a lot of replacing, because you need a real technician there. I had hoped that Kyle Turner was going to be that guy, but he’s obviously off again now.

“It could go either way next season. I’m finding it hard to be positive about pushing for the top six or anything like that, because it always depends a bit of recruitment and what kind of squad we end up with. I just want to not be in the play-off again next summer to be honest.”


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