Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Football Club Mascots - Love them or loathe them?

When Fullham's Billy the Badger sprang into a half-time break dancing routine in a bid to liven up the Craven Cottage crowd ( 3rd February v. Aston Villa) officialdom struck.
Billy was still jiving on the pitch as referee Chris Foy attempted to get the second-half underway, and in the end the official was forced to literally physically escort him off the playing area, (pictured right) much to the amusement of many of the fans, if not the players at least.

In honour of that recent and rather humorous incident I am going to post a piece on my blog on the subject of 'Football Club Mascots.'

Do the likes of Billy and Co. bring colour and fun to the game or are they simply irritating and annoying distractions???

Mascots are currently a strongly entrenched feature of the 'match day experience' in British football and almost every professional football club has one, usually a furry-suited local 'character' dressed up as a figure related to the club's nickname or crest.
The recent trend in mascots started in the late 1980's and early 1990's when clubs like Crystal Palace and Chelsea adopted the 'furry fools' as part of the 'lively, family-orientated' atmosphere promoted at football grounds.
Most league clubs were quick to follow suit and mascots soon became a perennial feature at most stadiums throughout the 1990's.

There were, though, a few earlier generations of mascots. From 1902-05 Manchester United had a St. Bernard dog called The Major, Millwall had a lion in the 1920's, and Leicester City had a fox character complete with bowler hat and stick in the 1940's.

Team mascots can be found rallying their supporters at most league clubs, from Arsenal's (Gunnersaurus Rex) to Southend United's (Sammy the Shrimp).
Some clubs even have real animals as their mascots instead of the overgrown, cuddly variety!
Derby County have Private Derby the ram, and Hereford United have a bull.

Modern mascots do have more use than teasing fans and having the odd kick-around with opposing mascots.
Some are a tribute to iconic figures from a club's history. Lofty the Lion of Bolton Wanderers, is named after Nat Lofthouse, a club hero during the 1940's and 50's and Wycombe's Bodger is named after Tony Horseman ( called Bodger because of his job in the furniture trade), the club's all-time leading goalscorer.

Exactly how many millions of pounds have been lured into football by the presence of a sweating, unemployed actor in an animal costume has never been established. What is beyond doubt is that the unchoreographed antics of various club mascots has become part of the modern day ritual at a game.

Being a mascot isn't all fun and games. While it may be fun to dress up and entertain large crowds, it can be physically demanding and sometimes quite dangerous. Costumes can weigh up to three stone and mascots are susceptible to injuries, particularly to their knee and ankle joints.

The profession appears to attract a particular kind of local exhibitionist!
As most mascots are fans, and don't get paid, they can sometimes get carried away.
Frisky behaviour and pitch-side pranks have led to some mascots being sent off!

Cyril the Swan of Swansea City was fined £1000 by the Welsh FA for bringing the game into disrepute after running on the pitch to hug a goalscorer.
Hercules the Lion of Aston Villa was sacked from his job after making inappropriate advances towards Miss Aston Villa, while Wolfie of Wolvehampton Wanderers and Bristol City's Three Little Pigs were involved in an on-pitch match day brawl.
In a separate incident Preston North End's Deepdale Duck had to be dragged off the pitch by his wings after losing his cool!

These exploits have led the Football League to make plans for a Code of Conduct for mascots. In response, some of football's furry friends have threatened to go on strike unless improvements in their working conditions are made.

Being a mascot is a serious business!

FYI - The annual charity Mascot Grand National takes place every September at Huntington racecourse along with The Mascot Awards, which includes categories for 'Best Turned Out Mascot' and 'Most Ugly Mascot.'

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