Being a child mascot is not cheap

Anyone familiar with the Premier League will be used to seeing 11 child mascots running out with each team every weekend. It's kind of nice to witness the different reactions of the kids, especially the younger ones, as they briefly find themselves in the limelight, holding hands with their heroes. Mind you, some of the players look a little uncomfortable with the whole procedure.

It certainly must be a moment these children will treasure all their lives. However, being a child mascot, or "player escort" as they are officially termed, is not always the altruistic gesture on behalf of the clubs one might first imagine. It doesn't come cheap.

According to a recent report, the privilege of walking out onto the pitch can cost as much as £700 (about 29,000 baht) at West Ham United. Ranking second in this rather embarrassing table are Leicester City (£600) followed by Tottenham Hotspur (£405). These fees are not confined to the Premier League either. Many clubs in the Championship charge hefty mascot fees.

To be fair, nine of the Premier League clubs -- Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Huddersfield, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Southampton -- do not charge anything for mascots. Such clubs have their own system of selecting mascots, usually involving loyalty schemes, charities, and sometimes featuring handicapped or seriously ill children. Basically they select a child they feel is deserving of the treat.

Many in the football business, including former players, have lashed out at the clubs charging so much. Former England captain Gary Lineker tweeted "Oh come on, this is awful -- dreadful avarice." Stan Collymore, a former Liverpool star, called it an "absolute disgrace".

Martyn James, of consumer website Resolver, termed the fees "absolutely outrageous. It means some rich kids can effectively buy their way to the top of the mascots list."

The club coming under most fire is West Ham, although they do point out that at each game one mascot is there for free. However, for the other mascots a substantial additional sum is paid for the child's replica West Ham kit. Some clubs include the replica kit as part of the package.

Championship side Swansea, who have also taken flak for their high fees for mascots, argue the package includes four hospitality tickets, a meal and a half-time penalty-kick competition.

Many fans who have forked out sizeable sums to see their children run out on the pitch on match day, think it was worth it. One Swansea City supporter commented: "It was very expensive, but it was worth every penny to see my son's face."

Getting away from the greed, you do come across heart-warming stories concerning the relationship between players and child mascots.

During his time at Sunderland, Jermain Defoe became special friends with a youngster Bradley Lowery suffering from cancer. Defoe spent a lot of time with the child and took him onto the pitch as a mascot at Sunderland and later at Wembley with the England international squad. The boy died last year aged six.

When he was awarded an OBE last year, Defoe commented: "This isn't for me or about me. It's for Bradley and those he loved. I would trade it all for him to be back in our lives."

A similar story involves former Norwich City star James Maddison, now at Leicester. Maddison met cancer victim Sophie Taylor aged four while playing for the Canaries. The two developed a friendship and at Maddison's invitation Sophie appeared as a mascot first at Carrow Road and later at Leicester's game against Watford this season.

Calling Sophie his "beautiful best friend" Maddison referred to one of their meetings. "Her family were on the sidelines watching Sophie and me kick the ball and they were smiling. To see them so happy at me doing this little thing for her, that's priceless."

While mascots are usually children, on occasions exceptions are made. Last September, 102-year-old Vera Cohen led Manchester City out onto the pitch at the Etihad Stadium, along with her "kid sister" Olga Haron, a mere 97 years-old. Vera had been a regular attendee at City's home games for the past 85 years and still goes to each match with her sister.

"Things were very different from how they are today," Vera told the BBC.

"They didn't have a scoreboard when I first came -- and a man used to come around with a blackboard with the score on it." Vera also got to meet manager Pep Guardiola. Her verdict? "Pep is amazing. I hope he stays forever."

Amazingly the sisters are not the oldest mascots to attend an English league match. In the opening game of the 2017-18 season Preston fan Bernard Jones, aged 105, led the Lilywhites onto the Deepdale pitch for their game against Sheffield Wednesday.

Jones said he became a Preston fan after hearing them on the radio win the 1938 FA Cup final when George Much scored the winning goal against Huddersfield.

Back in the days when I used to watch Reading in the old Third Division at Elm Park in the 1960s they didn't have child mascots. But that didn't mean to say you never saw kids on the pitch.

Just before full time, on the Tannoy came an announcement "please do not run on the pitch after the game." Of course after the whistle blew nearly every kid in the ground ran onto the pitch, primarily because they had just been specifically told not to.

It didn't cost them a penny, although they might get a cuff around the ear from a steward.

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