I wrote this blog on the eve of our home game with Burton Albion that saw Chris Sutton and Ian Pearce leave the club. At the time I was supporting Sutton as I felt a change would do us no good, and how right I was. One extra 0-0 that season would have seen us safe, and yet somehow the crafty cockney Steve Tilson seemed to mess it all up for us.
It’s probably telling that my blog before Sutton left was about Poacher, and this was back when I tried to retain at least an air of mystery The football was miserable and off the pitch I was discontented as well. I will be writing much more about Poacher in my upcoming book (by upcoming it’ll probably be 2018 by the time I finish it) but below is a small taster of what’s in store when I finally get my arse into gear.
Okay so in a nutshell Lincoln are conceding goals and not looking like scoring. We have players who don’t even resemble decent footballers, and then ones that do but we seem to hold in somewhat higher esteem. The fans are miserable and arguing amongst themselves and the manager seems to think that we’ve done nothing in 125 years of history which he is on a mission to put right. I hesitate to point out even Peter Daniel managed to take us into the conference, and he’d never played for England. Anyhow I digress.
Digress? How can I be digressing? This is a Lincoln City blog and that first paragraph was about Lincoln City. Indeed it was, but the headline maker over the next few weeks may be Imps mascot Poacher the Imp. Away from the amateur defending, toothless attack and fickle fans, Poacher may about to be involved in quite a sensational news story.
I had the pleasure of meeting Poacher once and he told me tales about all the antics he’s been involved in. The obvious question of course is ‘do you run that race every year, the one in the papers’? The answer to that was yes, but this year is going to be very different.
For best part of a decade and a half Huntingdon have staged the Mascot Grand National. Other courses have attempted and failed to emulate the media success of their event. In the early years the Sun newspaper were there, page threes finest were there and Poacher the Imp was there. The event went from strength to strength.
However things started to go a little sour. An extra from Coronation Street managed to get himself in the Oldham Athletic suit and start winning every year. Suddenly winning was the focus and some mascots started turning up in running shoes and very flimsy costumes. Genuine mascots such as Captain Blade from Sheff Utd weren’t so keen on this, and a 2005 spat saw the two come to blows at the en of the race. Integrity intact ‘Bladey’ as he is known retained his mascot status. The Corry extra resigned and Oldham appointed a much more suitable man to be Chaddy.
However The Sun continued their involvement, entering athletes in fancy dress masks and running shoes. Mascots started turning up from Sunday league sides such as ‘Finedon Volta’, running in no more than a tracksuit and balaclava. The racecourse seemed to actively encourage these ringers, and actively discourage good honest mascots. Indeed last year Captain Blade was given two minders to keep him in check, and for Bladey this was the final straw.
Many mascots have different reasons for boycotting the race. Bladey is a long standing mascot who has the respect of his mascotting colleagues such as Roary The Tiger from Hull, and our own mascot of 13 years Poacher The Imp. However as well as support for Bladey there is also the fear that football mascots might have been exploited just one too many times.
Back in the day, around the turn of the Millennium football mascots were everywhere. Poacher himself appeared in the early Huntingdon Grand National, appeared on Ant and Dec, filmed an advert for AXA insurance at Wembley and generally got everywhere he could. Mascots were treated as figures of fun, afforded a free reign to exhibit their unique brand of entertainment. However clouds started forming in 2005.
Rockingham racecourse put on an event in 2004 where each mascot got 50 free tickets to go along and watch a days NASCAR racing if they ran a race themselves. They did (Poacher finished 3rd by the way Imps fan, in front of 32,000 people). However in 2005 the ticket allocation was cut to just mascot plus 1. The bubble had burst.
With the exception of the odd event mascots have mostly been treated as a free bit of entertainment ever since. Huntingdon are the worst offenders routinely cutting down on changing space and refreshments whilst all the time trying to squeeze as much fun out of mascots as possible. Indeed two years ago Poacher and Mrs Poacher raised a massive amount of money for their chosen charity and were named ‘Best Fundraisers’. Was this publicised? No. Instead the publicity went to the mascot of that famous football club Saffron Walden FC from Saffron Walden. With a mascot called ‘Wacky Macky’ bear, because he is a Macken. From Sunderland. 237 miles away.
Of course the winner from 2004 Graham the Gorilla wasn’t from anywhere near as far away as that. No he represented another football giant, Finedon Volta FC. You all know Finedon Volta, they’re from Finedon in Northants and play in the local Northants League. I wonder why they have a mascot? I’m sure it wouldn’t be to enter a national race as a ringer and win money in a betting sting. I’m 100% sure of that.
The thing is all of this is to be expected, but a venue should move to stop behaviour like this. Mascots such as Captain Blade, Poacher and others dedicate their time (for free) to supporting charities, entertaining fans and supporting their side. Events such as the Mascot Grand National should be a chance to come together and do what they do best on a national stage. However it appears that Huntingdon Racecourse doesn’t accept this, and are more than happy to have 92 football mascots boycott this year’s event.
Mascots. Men with principles, direction and a liberal covering of fur. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get 11 of them into a red and white striped shirt on a Saturday afternoon, because I can guarantee that you’d find more passion there than Imps fans saw on Saturday.
At the time of writing City have lost 2 in 2 and are just five hours away from a crunch home games against Burton Albion. Lose that and perhaps the mascot crusade won’t be the only newsworthy nugget creeping out of the Bank this month. Win it and at least Chris Sutton will give the fickle fans something to consider before they start chanting ‘Sutton Out’.
Fans didn’t need to shout Sutton out, by the time I published this he’d probably already made his mind up. However we did boycott the grand national that year, in fact I wasn’t to attend another mascot event again which is a shame. I’m going to be scanning a few articles I wrote for the ferret in 2004 on here shortly, and I might even look back at a few old programmes I have kicking about (well over 1000) with a ccouple of cheeky scans for you to see as well. Let me know which you’d prefer, DF or programmes by commenting here.