A mascot experience – what a difference a day makes

As a child, events and experiences whether big or small can stay with us for life; this is something that’s easily forgotten.

My 8 year old son, Theo, who is a huge Boro fan, was lucky enough to be mascot for Boro away at Derby County recently and it turned into a day that he will never forget.

It was a crunch game and bound to be full of atmosphere with both teams chasing the playoff spots. The crowd was exceptional. The noise was almost unbearable and Boro ended up with an important 2-1 win after a decent performance; but for Theo, the day was made by both the actions of the Derby County staff and the visiting Boro squad.

The opportunity came for Theo after just over a season of being on the away mascot waiting list; a wait that has increased to around 4 seasons now. The away mascot experience differs significantly the the Boro Home one. The main difference being the price. The Home experience at the Riverside is roughly £300 whereas the away mascot experience is free; but it is worth mentioning at home you receive a full replica kit, 3 inclusive tickets, food, photographs, a signed ball and of course the experience of going onto the field. For the free away experience, with the exception of the mascot part, nothing is included; travel, tickets, kit, photos and food all have to be purchased individually – so it’s as free as any other away matchday.

We arrived at Pride Park on the as requested, 2 hours before kick-off, which fortunately coincided with the arrival of some of the Derby players; one of which was David Nugent, who in true David Nugent style, had plenty of time for everyone. Meeting an ex-Boro player before we’d even entered the Stadium, was a great start to the day.

We went to reception and were greeted by a young man called Brandan who was in charge of looking after the away mascot. He was great. A real nice lad and a credit to Derby County. Throughout the experience, he was pleasant, helpful and knew exactly where everyone needed to be and when.

After congregating in a room next to the tunnel, where drinks were provided, the mascots and accompanying adults were treated to a Mini-tour. Again the timing was fortunate as the Derby Chairman, Mel Morris, was walking up the stairs and stopped for a photo. It was a nice touch from the Chairman, who was really pleasant and only too happy to stop and chat.

Theo’s day really got going when it came to the visit to the Boro dressing room.
It’s easy to think of footballers as over-paid prima-donnas who don’t have time for people but this experience couldn’t have been further from the truth. Boro is a small club, a grounded club, and everyone within Boro understands the importance of the fans. For Boro, that  comes down right from the Chairman, an man who runs the club as a fan, and it filters right down through the manager to the players and all the staff.

On entering the dressing room, Theo was firstly greeted by a very friendly and welcoming Middlesbrough manager in Tony Pulis, who took the time to have a photo and spend a moment talking. The Boro boss then beckoned over Theo’s current idol, Adama Traore.

The young Spanish winger was given the task of taking Theo around all the players; each of whom were really engaging and were all happy to sign his shirt, programme and have a picture – as well as having a chat. This really was exactly how it should be.

Once Theo had been around everyone, Pulis told all the players to get down the end of the dressing room for a group photo with Theo and getting Jonathan Woodgate to snap the pic – there was absolutely no need for him to go that little bit further, but that’s exactly the type of small gesture that makes all the difference for a young lad.

Once the dressing room visit was done, the mascots got some game time on the pitch. Passing round the ball between each other. At this time, the players were also warming up and this is where there was another moment that made all the difference. Grant Leadbitter, the Boro club captain, stopped his warm-up, walked over and took some time to play with Theo; he played passes and gave home some headers. Theo couldn’t believe it and again showed players giving time where they didn’t have to.

The walkout was brilliant and was exactly what you would expect; a noise you affair with a lot of hand shaking going on.

The day was topped off with a superb win for the Boro over a direct playoff rival, playoff spots that both teams have now secured with Boro finishing in 5th and Derby in 6th.

I guess the point here is that it’s easy to get caught up in the scale of football, the weekly wages, the transfer fees and all the other stuff that comes around it, and it’s equally easy to forget the little gestures that make all the difference, particularly to a small boy who is meeting his footballing heroes.

Thank you and well done to both Boro and Derby for making Theo’s experience such a fantastic one and if anyone is having thoughts around having their child as a mascot, my advice would be to go for it, get them on the list; it could be a memory that will stay with them forever.