Libya's footballer-turned-fighter

War changes people. But I am not sure I have ever seen a community transformed quite so comprehensively as here in Libya's besieged city of Misrata.

Everyone seems to be learning a new job - fast.

Over the past few days I have met a welder-turned-sniper, a pensioner-turned-traffic warden, a printer-turned-cook, a radiologist-turned-logistics expert, and a spare parts salesman-turned-battalion commander.

But perhaps the neatest transformation - and the one that lends itself most handily to metaphor - is that of the star football centre back-turned-military defender.

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Image caption Ibrahim Bashir Shanibah played football for Libya as a centre back

His name is Ibrahim Bashir Shanibah, 38, a former member of Libya's national team who represented his country abroad at the 1997 Mediterranean Games in Italy.

For the past few years he has been coach of Misrata's premiership club, Swihli.

I ran into him on my first day here, when he emerged from the ruins of Tripoli street surrounded by a dozen or more fighters, and invited us for a camel liver barbecue in the courtyard of a nearby house.

In his trademark black cap, Mr Shanibah is a tall, gentle-looking man, nicknamed "Grande" for his size.

He lacks the swagger of many of the fighters here, and rarely seems to raise his voice as he orders his forces to race off to the new frontlines outside Misrata.

"To be a captain, and a coach, require leadership skills," he told me.

"That was useful when the fighting started. As a defender, I knew about tackling, and about courage.

"But I learned a lot about myself during the fighting - about how to be patient, and how to control angry men. That's the main difference - the extra aggression."

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Media captionIn some parts of Misrata, restored electricity supplies mean businesses can open again

Grande ended up controlling a rag-tag, improvised force of dozens of young volunteers, who fought for weeks against Col Muammar Gaddafi's tanks and infantry along and around Tripoli street.

"It was either fight, or die. When they reached my family's house - everything changed."

His brother has now arranged thousands of shells and other war memorabilia outside the family's ransacked mobile phone shop.

It has become a gathering point for crowds viewing the blacked ruins that surround it.

On Wednesday, Grande took his two young children back home for the first time in months.

Their house, a couple of blocks behind the shop, was looted - apparently by forces loyal to Col Gaddafi - and there are at least three big shell or mortar holes in the roof.

As his son and daughter peered around the wreckage, Grande pointed to a pile of old photographs that were spilling across a filthy carpet.

Several showed him in his national and local team stripes.

"Football is my job," he said.

"I'll go back to it when all this is over. I never thought sport would prove useful in fighting Gaddafi.

"Perhaps what I've learned these past few months will help me become a better coach."

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