Mark Birighitti recalls AZ Alkmaar trial as Dundee United goalkeeper comes full circle in the Netherlands

For Mark Birighitti, the Dundee United goalkeeper, tonight’s clash against AZ Alkmaar represents the opportunity for his career to come full circle.

As a 15-year-old, the Australian made his first ever trip abroad for a trial at AZ and now at the age of 31, he has the opportunity to shatter their European dreams.

Birighitti was ultimately never signed by AZ, but it is an experience that stood him in good stead. His career has since seen him play in the Netherlands with NAC Breda, but he knows that this trip could provide United with a historic moment.

Jack Ross’s side lead 1-0 from the first leg of the Europa Conference League third round qualifier thanks to Glenn Middleton’s second-half goal. Birighitti celebrated that moment by rolling around the pitch with a supporter who had leaped onto the park. Having grown up waking up at 3am in the morning to watch European football with his father, the chance to shake up the continent is something that he is excited by.

Speaking at AZ’s AFAS Stadion, Birighitti said: “I was only 15 and I just stayed in a hotel round the corner and we trained on the pitch out the back.

“It was a great experience and the first time I’d ever left Australia.

“It was a big stadium and in Australia you don’t see football stadiums like this and quality training pitches.

“It was amazing. Then when I was at NAC Breda, we played here and we had a horrendous time. We got smashed.

Dundee United goalkeeper Mark Birighitti applauds the fans at full time after the UEFA Europa Conference League third qualifying round first leg win over AZ Alkmaar at Tannadice. Pic: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

“I came over myself. Fair play to the club, they looked after me.

“My mum and dad dropped me off at the airport and I flew over to Amsterdam.

“One of the guys from the club met me. I actually just bumped into him in the dugout.

“I had a good chat with him and he remembers me. He’s a good guy.

“For me, it was a great experience. I was only 15 at the time and was lucky enough to get a trial for one week.

“It was a step up in terms of quality, the training, the speed they do things.

“The environment, the players and how technically good they are, it was a big step up.

“It was a good experience and playing against AZ now, it’s a good place to come to and I can’t wait for it.”

Birighitti would sit with his father and watch the Champions League before the sun had come up and playing in Europe has been a life-long dream.

He said: “For me, coming from Australia, growing up as a young kid waking up at 3am to watch European games, to actually be a part of it, to experience that atmosphere (last week), words can’t describe.

“It was nuts, it was amazing to see. I really enjoyed the occasion and I hope we can, and I’m confident, that we can get a result and progress to the next round and challenge for the group stages.

“It was probably one of the best atmospheres I’ve been a part of. Obviously, I’ve been in the UK before with Swansea but never played there. I played in Holland for a season with NAC Breda, and yeah there were a couple of good games, but the atmosphere at Tannadice was unbelievable.”

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