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First on the team sheet: friends and league remember Davide Giri

Local amateur standout killed in random attack last week

A standout local amateur player, Davide Giri was randomly killed in Manhattan last week.
Photo by Simon Czaplinski

When New York International FC finished training around 10 o’clock on Thursday, December 2, the players steadily trickled out of East River Park. The team’s November results hadn’t been outstanding in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League’s Division 2 but morale was high. The fall scheduling was nearing its end and the group was eager to start the final stretch strong against FC Japan that coming Sunday.

Team manager Gary Philpott stayed behind to put equipment away as per usual. With his head down, one player shouted out a goodbye to him, barely catching the farewell before looking up to see a familiar figure walking toward the gate. The Ireland expat stopped what he was doing and quickly made up the twenty yards towards his departing teammate.

Davide Giri stopped, looked back, and when his manager caught up the two hugged.

“I said to him, ‘we never say goodbye without shaking each other’s hands,’” Philpott said in a phone interview. “And like, I’m just like, I’m trying to understand… The fact that I caught it and saw him and called him back and gave him a hug before he left was like, I dunno, trying to understand”

Under an hour later, Davide was fatally attacked just north of Morningside Park near West 123rd Street. He was 31 years old. The graduate student at Columbia University was only a block away from his apartment.

“It’s like, I don’t know, fucking driving me insane, just replaying it in my head replaying. Or maybe if I didn’t call him back, you know, like what if fucking I left the session on five minutes (earlier)?”

For members of NYIFC, moments from that night are difficult to discuss and harder to live with. Since then the last hour of Davide’s life has been written about multiple times. The whirlwind of support and tributes, including a large vigil held at the university, have brought some solace to the group.

But Davide was more than that last hour. The incredibly smart defender whose quiet demeanor masked one of the nicest people ever known to those that were lucky to meet him. The man who enthusiastically supported Inter Milan and the Azzurri. The student who’d been across the world from Italy, Chicago, and Shanghai, just to name a few, who loved to learn about other cultures. The friend who truly felt New York City was a second home because of that cultural melting pot.

To others though, including NY International team president and player Nick Platt, Davide would also be the type of person to question why people were talking so positively about him. Speaking to OaM in a phone interview, Platt wasn’t even sure how Davide would have reacted to all of this if he were around to see it.

“He was a fairly humble guy. So I don’t know how much he would have taken it in stride,” he said. “He wasn’t big on sort of taking compliments when you talk about him in a football sense.”

For Philpott, he could remember trying to award Davide ‘Man of the Match’ honors multiple times only to get push back. The defender would constantly talk more about a missed pass or unnecessary foul rather than anything he did correctly. And to those who got the chance to play with him, he did a lot right.

For many of his teammates their first introduction to Davide happened on a different team. The Alba, Italy native got his first taste of the city’s lower league with then-CSL Division 2 side Beyond FC. Even back then Platt knew he was a special player. A player akin to a typical 90s Italian defender. Someone, he explained, that was cultured with the ball but not afraid to make hard tackles.

But something was still missing. Davide bounced around from the reserve team to Beyond FC Metro, an even lower side in the CSL pyramid that essentially served as a third team, before stepping away all together for a few months. Work and studies were picking up at Columbia and to Davide his time with Beyond had not reached his expectations.

It was not as if he had nothing else to keep himself busy. While he already had multiple degrees including a B.A in Electronic and information engineering from Tongji University (Shanghai), Giri was still working towards an Ph.D. in computer science. He never liked to brag about how many articles he had published but his 4.0 GPA was setting him up for a lot of opportunities following his graduation in May 2021.

But then a different kind of opportunity arose. A few of his former teammates reached out with an idea to separate Beyond FC Metro into a brand new team. Thus, NY International FC was born. A team with a focus of having players of all nationalities and representing what it thought the best of New York City is. Philpott recounted that was one of the reasons why Davide loved the idea and wanted to join.

“At one point when we started off with 26 players it was like 21 different countries (represented),” he said. “(Davide) was interested in multicultural cities and diversity and those types of places, which is why he loved New York. He studied in China, Chicago, Italy, and he always wants to come back here because of that multicultural diversification that New York has. It was something that warmed his heart.”

To every member of the team Giri became a constant fixture at practices. In a lower league where player availability and consistency can fluctuate Davide was almost always at the top of the team sheets. For practices, for games, for friendlies, and even the first to pay dues whenever those came up. Even before the team’s inaugural game against Brooklyn Bound SC in the Fall of 2019 the defender was one of the first players to arrive at Randalls Island. That was around 8:30 AM on a Sunday. The night prior he had pulled an all-nighter working on master’s work. The team won 5-1.

Davide Giri clears a ball.
Photo by Chris van Berkom

His playing time slowly began to increase and many began to meet the man behind the quiet exterior. It began with small things; like getting called for a foul and immediately protesting before realizing he was out of line and apologizing to the official. The full-blown Italian manners, talking tactics and more with more hand-based visual aid thrown in for good measure. But that inaugural season came during 2019/20 and we all know what comes next.

After the team’s season was cut short due to COVID, International was promoted to the newly named Division 3 for the 2020/21 season. The group went nearly undefeated and won the D3 Playoff Final, it’s first ever playoff silverware as a club. Albeit without Davide, who, with in-person classes canceled at Columbia, had returned to Italy in the early months of the pandemic to be with family. While away his commitment still rang through. If someone was needed for an online trick-shot video, he was the first player to send one in. When the team released its first merchandise an order for over $500 worth came in from Europe.

But as much as he did from afar Davide still had that itch to get back and play. His years of playing pickup football nearly four times a week were nothing compared to playing with the guys he still considered family.

In a twist of fate, Davide was initially supposed to return to the United States in early 2022. But when the chance arose for him to return to work at Columbia early he pushed up his return, especially for a chance to play for NYIFC in the Fall. Of course, he never assumed he’d be granted a spot back and humbly asked Philpott if he had room on the squad.

“I remember as far as a message, he texted me, he was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to New York next week. I know you guys have grown, but if you need some players I’d love to be a part of it.

“And I’m like; ‘Davide, are you fucking serious?’”

For all the humility he had Davide was still a talented defender. Someone who could box out a player on one play before taking them down cleanly on the next possession. He exemplified everything Platt needed in a leader especially with International fielding a reserve team following their promotion to Division 2.

“He came in and he gave us stability,” Platt explained. “The model player example that you want for these younger players to learn from. To really show them that this is a player that’s been around the game has played to a high level. Look at what he’s doing and that’s going to be what gives you the ability to step up to the first team.”

This article could go on for ages talking about individual stories and how much Davide’s team loved him. Things like his respectful tone to his disappointed teammates following Italy’s EURO 2020 win over England (saying “it was all luck anyway”). Or his desire to play in any match whether it be a league game or random state cup match. But after talking with the group one recent event popped up multiple times that’s worth mentioning.

The weekend prior to his death, Thanksgiving weekend, saw the CSL off from league play. To stay in shape International scheduled a friendly for that Sunday and following the game some members of the team went to a bar to relax. A few of the younger guys who hadn’t gotten the chance to really meet the normally quiet Davide, especially since he had been abroad during the championship run, thought it would be a great chance to get to know him.

Platt, who hadn’t gone with the groups, remembers also thinking it was a good idea.

“Suddenly the group chat lights up with a video message from Davide with a pint of Guinness jokingly telling everyone off who didn’t show up,” Platt laughed. “It was absolutely hilarious because it was so unexpected.”

To his friends and family, that was the person who they’re lucky to have known. The man who would stay quiet for the most part. But after getting into his comfort zone could be one of the funniest people they’d ever met. The guy who would chirp in with a burn that absolutely no one could come back against. The humble player who could down a drink and laugh about players backing out of a commitment.

As of now the members of NYIFC are still taking things day by day. The team returned to the field this past Saturday, opening its league match against Block FC with the same type of moment of silence seen across the league the past two weekends. International also ran a charity raffle this past weekend in honor of Davide, asking fans to donate to their favorite charities on what would have been his birthday.

Currently, Davide’s family is working with the Italian Consulate to have him return home for the final time. They are also working to allow his teammates to have one final moment with their friend before that. The family will also be taking home one of Giri’s match kits with International retiring his No. 2 from ever being worn again.

While other tributes are still being discussed one thing is certain. At every match NYIFC the team has a banner hung with its logo that has been around since its founding. A sort of simple for the team to know what group they play for that they can look at during any point of the match. Philpott and the team board have decided to retire that original banner in favor of a new one. While the design is still being worked on there is one thing that will be on it. A sentence told to Philpott in the days following the loss of his friend that came from Davide’s brother.

“Win for Davide, live for Davide.”