They come in all shapes and sizes.
We have Buddy the Bandit and Bertie the Bear. Glasgow enjoy the antics of the energetic Roary and our visitors tonight work best when encouraged by Ed the Monarch, who – in the best Wizard of Oz tradition – is a cowardly lion.
I’m told that at Brough Park they sometimes enjoy the company of Big Geordie, a miner who wields what I’ve heard described as a soft pick. (Memo to self: check that last sentence carefully).
Plymouth have the cutely-named Neville the Devil, who I regret to admit having once felled with a shrewdly-directed boot in the chuckies when he attempted to interrupt me in full flow while I was addressed the Devon nation on their infield mike during a visit to the St Boniface Arena by our Banditos.
(In passing, I should say Neville is a fairly recent addition at Plymouth. Before his arrival the mid-meeting entertainment during Berwick visits seemed to comprise a former promoter locking himself in the bar to interview staff).
They inhabit soccer grounds too. Aberdeen have a nervous-looking sheep called Donny, while I think St Mirren’s Paisley Panda once ended up in court on charges of ‘gross indecency, liable to incite visiting fans’ --and you thought I used to be naughty?
Yes, I’m talking about these cuddly creatures we get at speedway these days, beloved of the kiddies and, if their antics are silly enough, tolerated by even the grumpiest of aulder fans – the mascots.
But excitable people in furry costumes are actually a reasonably modern innovation – in simpler times, clubs and indeed all sorts of institutions had live animals as their mascots, sometimes parading them before events.
Others just picked on a celebrity, and declared them to be their lucky mascot – sometimes with the subject being unaware he, she or it was the subject of such affection.
When I was a nipper, I supported Glasgow Tigers, who ‘adopted’ a tiger at the local zoo.
She was called Sheila, and there was a plaque on the bars of her cage announcing the link with the speedway Tigers, who in return would mention the tigress in press articles and sometimes have riders at the zoo to pose for photos, presumably on the safer side of the bars.
Unfortunately, on November 5th, 1949 (I had to look the date up, I’m not THAT good on trivia) one of the keepers failed to follow full H&S procedures to the letter, leaving the lady’s cage door open – allowing Sheila a chance to make a break for freedom, or at least get out to stretch her legs, have a look around and maybe watch the fireworks.
Unluckily, she perhaps made her escape prior to feeding time and was feeling a bit peckish, as her next move – sadly her last move – was to attempt to have a nibble at a passing keeper, resulting in Sheila being felled by the guns of the rest of the zoo’s staff, and a need for a new mascot at the old White City.
So, that’s a warning to Ed the Cowardly Lion if he’s there on Saturday – don’t step over the line, mate!
The Glorious Twelfth might not be until Sunday, but at any sign of an attempt to gnaw Steve Hayward, out come the Purdeys!
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