Saturday morning I settled into the the couch and flipped on the West Ham v Man City match. Just as the players were leaving the tunnel, heading out to the pitch, my boyfriend entered the room. “Why are those guys holding hands with little kids?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his genuine concern and bewilderment. He has only recently been enlightened to the joy that is being a football supporter and apparently doesn’t pay much attention to the beginning of a match. When I told him players walk out with children at almost every match, and in basically every league all he could muster through his confusion was, “but why?”
Good question. I never really put much thought into it. I mean, I’ve been watching football since I myself was a child. I guess I had always just assumed it was a tradition of some sort. Kids from the local youth teams or underprivileged backgrounds, getting a chance to walk next to their would-be heroes. A sentimental “live your dreams, this could be you one day” type bit, but to be honest, I wasn’t really sure.
As it turns out, I’m not the only who doesn’t really know who, why or how these kids ended up standing out on the pitch. When I searched Google there were several blogs and forum conversations asking the same question, each with a different answer. Here is what I’ve deduced.
The kids are mascots, “match mascots.” And, as you’ve seen in nearly any football match, their job is to awkwardly escort a player or official out onto the field before the match. Simple enough. Most teams have certain criteria for the kids to qualify including age restrictions and even height.
There isn’t one definitive reason as to why this tradition started, but multiple benefits. Like I had assumed before, one positive to having match day mascots is that it is obvious quite the experience for the youngster. The feeling of walking out alongside a famous footballer in front of scores of cheering fans would no doubt be an unforgettable experience for anyone, but especially for a child who will grow up with a deeply instill enthusiasm for the game. It serves as a symbol of sorts, these football greats passing on their passion to the youth that will eventually take it over. How very touching… and sort of brilliant from a twisted marketing stance, because no doubt these experiences will impact the impressionable minds of youth greatly and foster a commitment to football unlike any other.
The moment you realize your favorite footballer is behind you.
Passing along love for the game is the sweeter side of keeping match day mascots, but there are other indirect benefits. Waiting in the same tunnel as your biggest rival, before you play the most important match of your life sounds like a sure way to cause a scuffle. But add a child to the scenario, and everyone stays on their best behavior. It is much more difficult to participate in lude, unsportsmanlike antics with the prying eyes of a child watching your every move.
So how does your kid become a mascot? It all depends on what club you’re supporting. For most teams a certain number of slots a year are reserved for the official youth league associated with that team. Many other mascot roles are filled by raffles, drawing, and sweepstakes. Then there are the clubs that fill those spots with those willing to pay a hefty price. Last December several British Premier League clubs came under fire over the excessive price tags attached to their matchday mascot packages. West Ham the guiltiest culprit reportedly charging £600 for its top mascot experience. Swansea, Leicester, and Crystal Palace are among a lengthy list of others that charge a significant fee to participate, while Manchester United, City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Aston Villa, and a few more offer the experience for free.
MLS teams have similar practices as those in Premier League offering various raffles, sweepstakes, and partnering with local youth teams and organizations. Here are a few links to different teams and their mascot requirements: