Jack McLinden: Everton's 'remote' mascot could pave the way for more like him

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Robot fulfils Jack McLinden's Everton mascot experience

"I can see it taking off. There are children like Jack all over the world who would love the opportunity to do it."

Everton fan Jack McLinden's mother hopes her son's stint as club mascot - through the medium of a robot - will create the same opportunities for other youngsters with serious illness.

On Monday - just weeks after his family feared they might lose him - 14-year-old Jack became football's first "remote" matchday mascot as his beloved Toffees beat Newcastle.

"I'd have said there was no way he could ever have been a mascot but this was amazing," said mum Michelle Wignall. "Someone said last night he had made history and that was nice.

"He could be the answer to a quiz question in years to come."

'His smile was so worth it'

"He was loving it", said Jack's mum of his mascot experience
"He was loving it," said Jack's mum of his mascot experience

Memories of the call every parent dreads are fresh in the minds of Jack's mum and dad - an urgent summons to hospital with their child in a critical condition.

Though used to their son's ill health, they were "terrified" after receiving the news - just weeks ago - that he had become unresponsive at school and had to be resuscitated.

Jack cannot walk or talk and needs oxygen around the clock, but he is so resilient he was home within a fortnight.

That enabled him to 'lead out' his beloved Everton at Goodison Park, with captain Phil Jagielka carrying the robot which fed panoramic live images and sound back to Jack's tablet a few miles away at his home in Liverpool.

"For Everton to win, and for the captain who was with him to be man of the match, it was just brilliant," said Michelle. "It was really like he was there. He was just loving it, really loving it."

The robot - called 'AV1' - was made by Norwegian firm No Isolation and was designed to help youngsters with long-term illness battle loneliness and 'attend' school from home.

"I had his vent and oxygen ready to connect him afterwards," Michelle said. "His smile was so worth it. I think years ago some people thought children like Jack couldn't live life to the fullest.

"It's just finding a way to get around the challenges and make things possible for children like Jack."

'There's only one Jack McLinden'

Jack fell asleep with the robot which gave him the chance to be Everton's mascot
Jack fell asleep with the robot which gave him the chance to be Everton's mascot

Michelle said Jack could not stop smiling throughout the evening.

"It started at 5pm when he saw the kit man laying out the kits, and then he was introduced to all the other mascots," she said.

"They took him around and showed him everything - the changing rooms and the tunnel.

"As all the players were getting off the coach he was there too; he got the full-on experience just like every mascot.

"Phil Jagielka was speaking to him, saying "come on, let's go" as they walked onto the pitch, and he was showing him the crowd, and when he was shaking people's hands he was introducing Jack as well.

"'Jags' was really involving him and it must have been difficult for him just carrying this piece of plastic but he fully embraced it and was fantastic.

"The other players were great, even the Newcastle players, and they were all joking with him."

Jack was given a rousing reception at half-time, when the robot was carried onto the pitch again as his favourite song - On Top of the World, by American rock band Imagine Dragons - was played.

"The fans were applauding and singing 'There's only one Jack McLinden'," said Michelle.

Press duties with the manager

Phil Jagielka played a key role in ensuring Jack got a unique experience as mascot
Phil Jagielka played a key role in ensuring Jack got a unique experience as mascot

After the game, which Everton won 1-0 thanks to Theo Walcott's goal, Jack got a bird's-eye view of manager Sam Allardyce's news conference.

"Sam carried the robot in for his press conference and it was just lovely of him," said Michelle.

"He introduced him and at the end he thanked Jack for the 1-0 win as if it was down to Jack.

"He put him down to face the media but we moved him round to look. I think we put him off a little bit but it was nice because he knew we were still there and watching and being part of it."

Asleep for Reds and all for the Blues

Jack has previously interacted with Wayne Rooney, one of his favourite players
Jack has previously met Wayne Rooney, one of his favourite players

Michelle said the evening had given her and Jack - along with his dad Lee, sister Becky, 27, and brother Sam, 17 - a lift after a difficult few months during which a collapsed lung had left him in intensive care.

Jack's parents became aware he had health issues at just three months old, and visits to Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital have become frequent for the Evertonian, who has a rare form of epilepsy.

Michelle added: "It's hard for people who don't know Jack to know he's interacting with them, but when he's been in hospital and the Liverpool players have come in he's slept right through it. Or pretended to be asleep. But with Everton he's wide awake and interacts with them.

"He's got no speech but he can make noises or give you a big grin or a smile."

Everton described giving the fan his matchday experience as a "privilege".

The club's head of engagement Scott McLeod said: "The feedback we have had from the family has been brilliant, with some really heart-warming comments coming through from football fans from all over the world.

"I know the players really enjoyed interacting with Jack through the robot and everybody here at the club would be keen to do it again.

"In fact, after the robot worked so effectively for Jack, we are looking at other ways in which we can create other virtual experiences in the near future for the fans who may otherwise not have the opportunity due to their circumstances."

It would appear Jack will indeed lead the way.

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