Tom Santinelli, in pole position!
It all started with a photo, sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Because the picture was unusual enough to catch our attention and to require some explanations... Thread after thread, panel after panel, its story was revealed to us. And we were delighted with his story! In the centre of the objective: Tom Santinelli. With a fluorescent suit, foot on the ball, Gym jersey brandished “Guessand-esque", small sunglasses, big smile. At his side, a "North Pole" sign, fixed in an immensity of ice. A seasoned sailor and mad Gym fan, Tom takes the red and black colours around the world, "by land and by sea". Currently on the water, he agreed to talk about what he does by e-mail. And, of course, about everything that shaped him: a journey that is both unique and universal, which we are bringing back to you through his words.
Tom, first of all, can you introduce yourself?
I am 24 years old, I was born in Nice and I have always lived in the region. I started playing football at a very young age, I used to play for the club in my town: ES Baous. We had a good team, we won some titles at the time. I then decided to devote myself fully to my favourite sport: judo. A few years later, I obtained my black belt and a podium at the French junior championships. I did my schooling at the Collège des Baous in Saint-Jeannet, at the Lycée Henri Matisse in Vence and then at the École Nationale Supérieure Maritime, in Marseille and Le Havre.
When did your passion for gymnastics begin?
My two grandfathers were great Gym supporters all their lives, and they passed on this passion to my father, who discovered the Ray at a very young age, as I did. I have always been a supporter. The tradition has continued and will continue.
A Gym shirt at the North Pole: where did this gesture come from?
I am a sailor and I was lucky enough to be part of the crew chosen for the first expedition of a French ship to the North Pole on board the "Commandant Charcot". I always travel with my OGC Nice shirt. Beyond the little gesture it often allows me to create a first contact with the local people, who come to ask which club it is, which players are known to the club... I remember beautiful moments like an improvised football in Ushuaïa or a "Beach soccer" in Indonesia. This time, we settled for a little Brazilian on the ice floe with my friend Brice who was also on board.
How, when you're on top of the world, can you even think about your club?
As I told you, I always have my jersey with me. When I heard that I had been chosen to be part of this expedition at the beginning of 2021, I immediately had the image in my head! It's such a magical and symbolic place, I had to mark the occasion! The photo was intended for my family and friends, many of whom are great supporters. It was also a more personal tribute to my two grandfathers, who have proudly worn the red and black colours all their lives.
Can you tell us a bit more about your job?
I'm a sailor, training to be an officer 1st class in the merchant navy. I sail on passenger expedition cruise ships. It's a very rewarding job that allows me to discover unique places and experience magical moments in the four corners of the globe. In the photo you mentioned, it was the first voyage aboard the "Commandant Charcot", a high polar exploration ship, to the North Pole. I was able to meet an exceptional crew on board, including a team of scientists whose aim was to gather as much information as possible on the composition and quality of the ice, the turbidity of the water, etc. All this data could then be interpreted and used as a basis for the scientific community. From a human point of view, it will remain an exceptional experience.
How do you stay connected to reality when you are on the other side of the world?
We have the possibility on board to contact our loved ones thanks to a connection provided by a satellite network. This helps to bridge the gap, but even with experience it's never easy to leave your loved ones like that. We also have access to the news, so we know what's going on and aren't cut off from everything.
Do you still live in Nice?
Yes, my main residence is still in the countryside. I've been lucky enough to discover many places around the world but each time I come back, I always say the same thing: how lucky we are to live here! The sea, the mountains, the city, the climate. I wouldn't leave the Nice region for anything in the world!
Your most distant rouge et noir memory?
I have magical memories of the Ray, I didn't miss many home games and whether it was in the Presidential or the Southern Stand, the atmosphere was always unique. I loved this closeness to the city, this authentic atmosphere. Knowing that I was there, in place of my father, and my grandfathers decades before, was a special and magical feeling.
Your favourite player?
Hatem Ben Arfa, without a doubt. And if you ask my friends, it will be the same answer. I remember the atmosphere in the stadium every time he got the ball. He stopped time, you knew that anything was possible. It was genius.
How do you live your passion from a distance?
I always find a way to follow the game as best I can, whether it's with notifications or when I'm more fortunate with the live stream. In any case, I know I have the post-match review with my dad and my friends! It's a ritual.
What do you think of the season?
I like the state of mind that the group is in. The Galtier effect was felt from the very first games of the season, this grit is perhaps what has been missing for the last 2 or 3 years. The squad already had quality but sometimes the state of mind was not the right one. This year it's different, in terms of commitment and involvement. It changes everything. If we keep this line of conduct we can only have a good season.
Do you have time to come to the stadium?
I was hoping to do so when I returned in mid-September between two contracts. I had put a red (and black) cross on my agenda for the Monaco match, but unfortunately the events of the match against Marseille delayed my return to the stadium. In the meantime, I'm content with the streams and videos sent by my parents and friends from the stadium. When the connection allows it, I share "Nissa la Bella" on Facetime with my father.
Where do you plan to fly the flag next?
I'm sailing in the Mediterranean until December, then I'll go to the Emirates and I'll find a nice place to have an impromptu football game or a nice photo. The shirt is ready.
A final word?
"M'en bati sieu nissart", as they say. Baieta to all and Issa Nissa!