The Holy Grail of football is the FIFA World Cup tournament held once every four years and if you would ask any die-hard football fan their ultimate dream would be to attend the event once in their lifetime. But for Venezuelan businessman Hely Garagozzo, it has now become a ritual tradition.
Garagozzo has now attended a whopping nine of the tournaments in a row beginning in 1982 when it was held in Spain to the last in Brazil.
This unique feat has been acknowledged by the Guinness World Records for the most FIFA World Cup tournaments attended by an individual.
The Venezuelan estimates he has traversed over 231,000 kilometres to attend these matches, which is the equivalent of 5.67 full circumnavigations of the Earth.
Despite the main attraction always being the football itself, he has been able to see many interesting sites along the way such as the Roman Coliseum, Iguazu Falls, ground zero in Hiroshima, and the Berlin Wall.
“It’s the magic of football that transcends the field and transforms into a culture,” he said.
Hely carries a large Venezuelan flag to every game he goes to, which can sometimes cause him to stand out in the crowd. “A lot of people know me as the guy with the flag,” he joked.
In addition to the nine World Cups, he also attended the Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 as well as the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt in 2009.
He estimates that he has spent over 144 hours watching World Cup matches. In this time, Garagozzo says he has borne witness to 24 football records that Guinness World Records recognises.
In order to verify his record, he submitted extensive evidence such as copies of his original tickets, plane tickets, witness statements, copies of passport stamps, photographs, and videos.
Among his evidence was the most expensive ticket of his 35 years of fandom, a $616 stub for the semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands back in 2014.
Hely says his favourite World Cup was the 2002 edition held in South Korea and Japan because of the organisation, planning, and hospitality he received.
Of the 51 stadiums he has visited in his travels, he ranks Allianz Arena in Munich and the Maracaná in Rio de Janiero as his favourites.
He is now set to travel to Russia next year to wave his flag in the stands, meet fellow fans from around the globe, and watch the top players in the world compete for football’s biggest prize.
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