Saturday 14 March 2020, 12:40

The Stadium Hunter

  • Federico Roccio has visited 603 stadia in 42 countries

  • His marriage proposal and honeymoon were football-themed

  • He cried when he entered two stadiums

“I always dreamed of spending my honeymoon on the Caribbean,” Eleonora Davi, a 26-year-old Italian told from her honeymoon. “Just me and my husband in romantic heaven – white, sandy beaches, glorious, turquoise waters, exotic cocktails.”

Starfruit Daiquiris and Bahama Mamas turned out to be beer in plastic cups. The sands of Aruba, Barbados and St. Barts were the grass of La Bombonera, the Wanda Metropolitano and El Centenario. Deserted paradise was pandemonium amongst shrieking football fans.

Eleonora, indeed, spent her honeymoon cramming 28 stadia visits and 15 matches into 14 days. It was an offshoot of marrying Federico Roccio, AKA ‘The Stadium Hunter’, whose wedding vacation hiked his stadia count to 603 across 42 nations.

“It was a very different honeymoon to how I imagined it would be,” Eleanora said, laughing. “But it was such an amazing adventure. It was even better than the honeymoon I grew up dreaming of as a girl.”

So how did Federico’s manic addiction begin?

“It started in two phases,” Federico told “My dad Mario, like all good dads, imposed the family football belief on me: a passion for Milan. I went to my first game when I was four years old. I remember trying to look and act younger to get a cheaper ticket.

“In May 2007, I had been to all Milan’s home games that season, and I had only one goal: the Athens final against Liverpool. I had a heated argument with my dad. Because I was living under his roof, and I was a minor, even though I was 17 years and 11 months old, I had to obey him and didn’t go.

“As soon as I turned 18 I thought, ‘Now I can do what I want’, as a lot of young people feel. My first long trip was Lecce-Milan. It was 14 hours there and 14 hours back on an InterCity Night train for a lame 1-1 draw.

“The second phase was in 2009. I flew to Catania to watch Milan with a group of people who were four-five years older than me. They were comparing how many stadiums they’d been to, and they were making fun of me because I’d been to barely any.

“I said there and then: 'If they can do it, so can I'. I told them that in a few years I would have been to more stadiums than them. They were laughing at me. That night [Klass-Jan] Huntelaar, who was known as ‘The Hunter’, scored two injury-time goals and we won 2-0. So they started calling me ‘The Stadium Hunter’. They were mocking me, but I liked it and the nickname has stuck.

“Right away, I started going to stadiums all over Italy and in bordering countries like France and Switzerland. I got hooked. Before I knew it this was my life: going to football stadiums all over England, Germany, Spain, wherever.”

And then came Eleanora. Surely she wouldn’t bear Federico's uber-obsession?

“We met at a swimming pool,” Eleanora explained. “We were both working as lifeguards. Federico had this immense football addiction. I wasn’t into football at all. My best friends warned me that someone who loves football has no place in his heart for something else."

“Her friends thought she was crazy for dating me,” Federico interrupted. “It’s a good job her nickname is ‘Saint’!

“It is,” Eleanora responded, giggling. “We went to Corsica for our first trip away together. I thought, ‘How romantic.’ I thought we were going out for dinner when Federico told me he had tickets for Bastia-Clermont in Ligue 2. I thought, ‘Uh’.

“But I went and I absolutely fell in love with football. The football and the experience of being at a game. All those happy people singing. I even joined in with them even though I didn't know the words.

"I’ve really loved football ever since. Now it's me who asks him to go to football matches. And I want to say that Federico has always put me first and treat me like a princess."

With his then-girlfriend on side – Federico went on to propose at the Stadio San Siro – the Saronno native's stadium hunting accelerated. Furthermore, working as a chef – he’s cooked for Rino Gattuso, Alexandre Pato, Filippo Galli, Brendan Rodgers and Claudio Ranieri – enabled him to live in other countries for short periods and stadia-cram. So what’s the best atmosphere among the 603 menus he’s sampled?

“Celtic Park in Glasgow and La Bombonera in Buenos Aires,” he said, emphatically. “I was fortunate to live in Dumfries, Scotland for five months. I went to the Old Firm twice. It was unique, amazing.

“My first time in ‘Paradise’ (Celtic Park) was for Celtic-Milan in the Champions League. Milan won 3-0 but at the final whistle, the Celtic fans came beneath the Rossoneri section, applauded us, and threw us their scarves as a gift. What a gesture!

“And what I experienced during my honeymoon in Argentina was insane. Buenos Aires revolves around football. La Bombonera was magical, the whole stadium didn’t stop singing. A magnificent atmosphere.

“And I’m not ashamed to say this but, when I entered both of those stadiums, I cried. I love Celtic and Boca Juniors fans.

“In Buenos Aries, you live and breathe football 24 hours a day, football belongs to the people. Billboards, t-shirts, key rings, glasses, bars, virtually everything you see is football. Not just Boca and River, but San Lorenzo, Independiente, Racing too.

“I think it’s similar in Greece. Everything is Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK, PAOK, Aris Thessalonika. Every game I went to in Greece, the atmosphere was something else. The passion for football in Greece and Argentina is beyond crazy.

“In Crete I met some guys during OFI Crete-Panetolikos who have become lifelong friends. We go and stay with them, and they come and stay with us. I met some Dortmund fans before BVB-Bayern – we chat every day about football. And on our honeymoon, a Boca fan, Claudio, was with us for virtually the whole time since our second day.

“Football for me is more than just the game. It’s the journey to the game – plane, train, bus – the typical food of the city, the local beer, the atmosphere, the songs, the banners and flags, and especially meeting fans and making friendships.”

‘The Stadium Hunter’, coming soon to a stadium near you. Be sure to say ‘ciao’.