My 6-year-old son, Theo, was Boro mascot at home to Wolves on 4th of March; to use the word proud…well that doesn’t even come close to describing what it was like to watch him walk out with the Boro team.
For those who are interested, here is a little bit of an insight into the ins and outs of the mascot experience…
Firstly, it’s worthwhile knowing that my son is a huge Boro fan (no brainwashing involved, honest) and has his own season ticket, so as you can imagine, he could hardly contain his excitement when he was told that we had booked it; the point I am trying to make is that a love of football, and of the Boro, is important if you are thinking about doing this, as it could be easily be wasted.
The process began by calling the club, who ran through the details and booking was straight forward.
The cost of the experience was £299; which may sound a lot, but as part of that you get a football strip, a signed ball, 3 match day tickets (one for the child and 2 adults), Matchday parking in Car Park E, a meal voucher for food from the Concourse, official photos of the experience, a visit to the changing room to meet the players, walkout with the team, a brief kick around on the pitch, and photos in the centre circle with captains and the match officials.
Now before you get too carried away, only the mascots get to go into the changing room! That means you won’t paying just short of £300 to be looking at George Friend in his under crackers; just for any of you who were thinking it.
We were told on booking to return the consent forms (for photos and allergy stuff etc) to the club about a month before. This also included the kit size required and a photo which would appear it the match day programme. We were told on booking that the strips for the mascots were put to one side so there would be plenty available at the time, just so a strip wasn’t allocated and then the child grow out of it by the time the game came around. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case; on requesting the kit a month before (as advised), we were told that they didn’t have any. To be honest, this instantly felt like a huge disappointment as I always envisaged a mascot at home would be running out in a home kit. Overall, though, Theo wasn’t bothered about the kit, and didn’t really impact his experience – it was just something that shouldn’t have happened. The club assured me that they have sorted this out for the future. Anyway, we were given the choice of an away kit (Theo already had one) or a voucher for next season’s home kit; we took option B.
That aside, the experience was great. Our point of contact was a lovely lady called Jayne, who, by all accounts, went above and beyond what I would have expected to ensure that Theo had a great time and that I too was happy. Nothing was too much trouble for her. A true example of great customer service.
Theo, of course, was super excited. He got ready in his kit at home and we headed off to the game, having to arrive about an hour and a half before kick off.
We headed to reception where we were greeted, received our match pack which included programmes and tickets, and were also given the signed football. We were then taken to a small suite where parents could have a cup of tea, the children were given a soft drink, and we had the details of what was going to happen explained. On the way through, we passed the legend that is Bernie Slaven, he ruffled Theo’s hair and said something along the lines of, ‘Alright kidda,’ but Theo was oblivious. I wish I’d asked for a photo.
After about half an hour of being in the room, the mascots (Theo and 3 others) were taken to the dressing room whilst the parents were taken to another small room to drop off any belongings that we didn’t want to carry around, and then through the concourse to the pitch side; we met the children at the end of the tunnel once they were done. Whilst in the changing rooms, the official photographer took photos of Theo with various players including Clayton, Ramirez, Adomah, Dimi, Nsue… The list goes on.
From then onwards, there was a lot of waiting around. Now waiting around doesn’t sound much fun, but when you are stood at the end of the tunnel, there is a lot going on; in fact, it gave an insight into how much goes into a match day. From a fans point of view, we see the players come out and go back in, but what you don’t realise is the hustle and bustle of what goes on behind the scenes. It is a mighty operation.
Waiting around gave several opportunities for photos with passing players (David Nugent, in particular, was great with the kids), and we even managed to watch a live Sky Sports interview with John Hendrie and Steve Vickers; however, during the 50 minute wait, the children could have been doing other things, and it began to get a bit cold. Grant Leadbitter, who was injured, was also in the tunnel in very high spirits. He was only too happy to have photos and was laughing and joking with various people; a very different Leadbitter to the steel faced Captain we see on the pitch.
The key moment of the night though is the point where the teams walk out; everything seems to happen all at once. Just before the teams lined up, the mascots were taken to get ready with the players in the tunnel and we, the parents, were moved behind a barrier where we were still close enough so we could take pictures or videos of the mascots and the team walking out.
Theo was lined up next to George Friend, who happened to be captain that night, and lead the team out in front of just over 22000 fans. He did really well and wasn’t daunted at all, he just wanted to be out there. He loved it.
Once on the pitch, the mascots lined up with the team and then walked the line of the opposition and shook their hands; this was followed by a few minutes of kicking the ball around with the Captain and each other.
With a quick photo in the centre circle, the mascot part of the experience was done.
Following that, it was time to watch the game, we got some extra layers on Theo and said goodbye to the staff before taking our seats for the match. Ideally, I think the club could have assigned seats near the end of the row as it takes a few minutes to get seated after leaving the pitch and it isn’t great to ask a row of people to get up to let you past once the game has begun, but in the grander scheme of things, that a minor oversight and once seated, isn’t really a problem.
Thankfully, we got to watch the Boro win, so what was a great experience for Theo, was made even better by the team getting 3 points!
A few days later, the official photos arrived from the club; these were sent to me via email with a link to a Dropbox for download within 7 days.
Theo loved his experience and desperately wants to do it again!
Overall verdict: Well worth it.
Russ Johnson (@iRussJ)