She quit her job, had no home and made no plans, but six months later, Jessica Malone has travelled to 60 football matches in 13 countries on three continents.
The American, who even named her dog after Zinedine Zidane and has a particular fondness for Newcastle United, has visited 44 stadiums since packing in her job in April to watch football.
The 33-year-old used air miles to travel around Europe, staying in youth hostels, before flying over to South America and Central America to watch some of the world’s biggest games.
No job, no home, no plans
Malone, who worked for an environmental consultancy firm for 10 years, handed in her two-week notice in April after personal circumstances left her wondering what to do next.
She “hadn’t planned to quit”, but with the Women’s World Cup in France around the corner, she decided to pack up her bags early.
“It was unexpected. I had actually been living at a job site for six months with all my belongings in storage,” says Malone. “I didn’t have a place to live so when I quit I hadn’t put all my travel plans together but just knew I had to leave and figure it out later.
“I thought about the number one thing I wanted to do and that was seeing Lionel Messi play. I had certain stadiums and teams in mind that I thought, if I don’t see them play during this time in my life, when will I do it?”
For the next two months, Malone travelled to Spain, France, Italy and Hungary and visited some of Europe’s biggest stadiums including Barcelona’s Nou Camp and AC Milan’s San Siro.
Her dream came true when she watched Messi come off the bench to score the winning goal against Levante, which secured Barcelona their 26th La Liga title at the end of April, before witnessing his side beat Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final four days later.
Malone says she thought Barcelona had the Champions League semi-final “in the bag”, adding: “In hindsight that was completely surreal!
“Watching Messi play was incredible. Everything goes through him. I have watched so many football games but to actually see him play was magical.”
Zizou, Shearer and St James’ Park
Malone has been to some of the biggest grounds in England, including Old Trafford, Anfield, Wembley, Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Etihad Stadium.
But Newcastle United’s St James’ Park is her favourite.
“I absolutely loved it! I saw Newcastle’s Premier League win over Manchester United and it was incredible. I love older stadiums so that one was really special. I had been looking forward to getting to it for quite some time.”
Malone’s love for Newcastle stems from the 1998-99 season, when Alan Shearer ended the campaign as the club’s top scorer with 21 goals. Newcastle finished a disappointing 13th but were runners-up in the FA Cup.
“I don’t have a favourite club team so I always try to support the lesser-known ones in America. Newcastle don’t have a big following here in the States,” she says.
“I had been to Watford v Newcastle in December and the away fans spent the entire game singing so I just thought, I need to go to a home game with these people!”
It was back in 1998 that Malone’s love for football began. The US men’s national team lost all three group games at the World Cup but Malone, who was “obsessed with the Spice Girls”, got attached to the England team, which included Shearer.
“I remember watching the game against Argentina [when England lost on penalties] and feeling so anxious and devastated for no reason because I had ties to neither team! I loved that whole World Cup and I named my dog Zizou after Zinedine Zidane.”
Back to work
After exploring Europe, with visits to Ajax’s Johan Cruyff Arena and the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Malone flew to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
It was a bold move as a solo, female traveller, but Malone says she “spent a lot of time planning” each trip.
“Because I’m unemployed, I had time to do full research on this stuff,” she says. “I love daytime kick-offs but in Europe they were often later. I try to be careful. I don’t wear anything flashy and I don’t really drink when I go to games by myself.”
Malone is often quizzed about why she watches football, which she says can get “exhausting”.
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“When I went to Russia for the World Cup I was asked at a fan festival why I was there. They would ask whether I had a boyfriend or a husband and I had to explain I was just there by myself like everyone else.
“But there are so many women at the South American and Central American games that are hugely passionate so people don’t even ask.”
Malone’s trip came to an end on Wednesday with her final game – the second leg of the Copa Libertadores semi-final between old Argentine rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors.
“It’s a game I never thought I’d get near to going to! It’s crazy that the dates and timings worked out well,” says Malone. “I started job searching again in October and it’s time to go back to work.
“I feel like I have done what I needed to do.”
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