MILAN (AFP) - A 71-year-old man who spent 11 years living rough after getting lost following an Inter Milan versus FC Basel Champions League game, has returned to his native Switzerland, reports said on Tuesday.
Rudolf Bantle was 60 years old when he travelled with friends to Milan in August 2004 to watch Basel take on Inter in a Champions League qualifier.
After Inter stretched their lead to 4-1 and with five minutes remaining, Bantle went to the toilet - a decision that was to have drastic consequences and change his life forever.
Upon returning, he failed to find his travelling companions. With only €20 (S$31) in his pocket and no mobile phone, Bantle was left stranded in Milan, where he spent the next 11 years living on the streets and getting by, thanks to the kindness of locals.
He was listed as a missing person by Swiss police in 2004 and with no information as to Bantle's whereabouts, the case was shelved in 2011.
According to Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag, whose report was carried by Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday, Bantle is now living in a pensioner's home in his native Basel.
But for the locals who helped Bantle in Milan's Baggio neighbourhood, the news has come as something of a surprise.
"Is it true? I didn't hear anything about him, I really thought he had died," said Sergio Mazzarelli, a librarian who like many locals got to know "the nice Swiss guy with the German accent" over the years.
In true 'tifoso' (fan) style, after FC Basel's defeat, Bantle went on to support the Nerazzurri's local rivals, AC Milan, whom he followed on the television at local betting shops.
The local students who came to know Bantle and helped him with spare change and clothes even gave him a Milan shirt with the name of Rossoneri great Kaka on the back.
Mazzarelli added: "He was a legend in this area. The story about (him getting lost at) the San Siro was circulating but no one knew if it was true or not.
"He was never keen to speak about himself. But everyone liked him. People brought him food and fresh clothes and he helped people when he could."
One student, Riccardo Foa, who has since become a doctor, told Gazzetta: "He didn't even have a local doctor. We used to take care of him ourselves."
Bantle told Schweiz am Sonntag his consumption of beer "helped keep warm, then one guy gave me a sleeping bag and saved my life".
Despite eventually being recognised following appeals by the Swiss authorities, Bantle refused to return home - until a fall decided otherwise.
He broke his femur and while in hospital, the Swiss consulate ordered his transfer back to Basel.
Bantle now has a roof over his head, a monthly stipend of €300 and, he says, "every afternoon, I can have a couple of cans of beer, they let me have that".