Jessica Malone quit her job and travelled the world to watch football
She saw 59 matches across three continents in six months
The Pennsylvanian discusses the best players and atmospheres she witnessed
Jessica Malone was newly unemployed and soon to be homeless.
“I quit my job in March – it wasn’t planned at all,” she told FIFA.com. “Through my work as a geologist, I lived at job sites or hotels, so I didn’t have an apartment.”
The Pennsylvanian took to the internet to scrutinise accommodation- and work-search websites. Predictably, she got distracted by footage of Lionel Messi’s latest chef-d'oeuvre: a hat-trick at Real Betis which included a divine chip – the eventual runner-up for the FIFA Puskás Award.
“I started thinking, ‘I just have to see Messi play’,” Jessica explained. “If I don’t do it now I’ll never get the chance.
“From there I thought, ‘I have to get to the San Siro’. It just went from there. It was one way to resolve not having to find an apartment!”
And so a 50,000-plus kilometre, three-continent, 12-country, 44-stadium, 59-match adventure – cost-facilitated by six weeks’ vacation pay, air miles, staying in youth hostels, and avoiding tourist activities and nightlife – was born.
“I’d already planned on going to the Women’s World Cup in June, so I incorporated that into my trip,” Jessica said. “I did Spain and Italy then went to Budapest for the Women’s Champions League final.
“Then I went to France 2019. I was really excited the United States won, but I was more excited by the level of improvement the rest of the teams had made.
“I caught some MLS and NWSL games to fill in time before the European season started, and then headed to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Then I watched 14 matches in England, one in Wales and three in the Netherlands.
“Then I did Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. My number-one stadium to get to had always been La Bombonera. I honestly never thought I’d get there – too crazy, too scary for a woman who doesn’t speak Spanish.
“It was better than anything I could have dreamed. The colours are so rich and vivid. The architecture is so unique. And the fans in South America – and in Argentina specifically – are next level. I’ve seen some great atmospheres in Europe, but it’s completely different down there.
“The Brazilians are always happy, and at all the games I went to there, at least half of the supporters were women, which makes the atmosphere better. But people express passion differently and the Argentinians certainly wear it on their sleeves – it’s a constant pulse of atmosphere there.”
It was Argentina’s favourite son that prompted Jessica’s journey. It was Norway’s most dazzling daughter that she came away treasuring the most.
“Seeing Messi was amazing,” she said. “I was at the first leg of the Champions League semi-final and he scored that free-kick against Liverpool.
“But, honestly, the best player I’ve ever seen live was Ada Hegerberg, who I got to see in the Women’s Champions League final. She scored a hat-trick in 16 minutes. Seeing her play made me more emotional than I realised it would. That was probably my favourite thing of the whole six months. I surprised myself with that.”
It was the trip of a lifetime for Jessica, but not the first football trip she had embarked on. “I was a bit too young in 1994, but by 1998 I was completely entranced by the World Cup. I became obsessed with it.
“I’m from a small, rural farm town in Pennsylvania. I’d never travelled outside the country – my parents hadn’t either – so seeing all these people from so many different countries – the jerseys, the flags, the face paint – was amazing.
“The US made an early exit, but I really took to the England team. I was obsessed with the Spice Girls and Sporty Spice was my favourite and she was always wearing the ’98 England jersey. In particular I thought the players were cute – Michael Owen, David Beckham, Sol Campbell.
“I was so anxious watching the Argentina game. I look back now and laugh because I really had no horse in the race, but it felt like absolutely everything was riding on it. I was devastated after the penalties, but it was an amazing World Cup and I named my dog Zizou.
“Then I got to go to four games at the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and watch the US on their way to victory. It was really special and formative as a football fan. I made my mom promise me that I could dye my hair red, the way Kate Sobrero had, if the United States won, so I got to cash that bet in! (laughs)
“I started going to United States games – mostly the men’s World Cup qualifiers – within the United States. And in 2017, I went to my first away game, against Mexico at the Estadio Azteca. It was something else.
“I went to Russia 2018 and I’ve made a few trips to England and Germany – eight matches in ten days or something. Football’s just a huge part of my identity."