Charlie Webster column: Robbie Williams & Mystery Fish - the world of mascots

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Charlie Webster is a broadcaster and writer, as well as a keen Ironman and triathlon competitor. You can hear her chatting about the EFL with Adrian Chiles on BBC Radio 5 Live on Chiles on Friday from 10:00 BST.

"There were 40 of us football mascots playing knock-a-door-run on Robbie Williams."

Fred the Red Devil was Manchester United's mascot in the early 2000s and when he was telling me that story, I thought 'this has got to be the first topic of my new column'.

Let's start with something fun - mascots!

More on Robbie Williams in a moment, but first, Nick Miller, who has written a book about mascots which is appropriately out on Halloween.

He's quite a discouraged Nottingham Forest fan and podcaster, even though his team are eighth and only four points off top-of-the-table West Brom in the Championship.

Maybe he is discouraged because their mascot is, in his words, "very tedious, it's just a bloke in a Robin Hood suit". Yes, that's pretty much what a mascot is, Nick.

Do animals make the best mascots?

Cleveland Browns' former mascott, Swagger the bullmastiff
American football still has live animals as mascots - Swagger the bullmastiff recently retired as the mascot for the Cleveland Browns

Through the years live animals have been used as mascots - nothing as exciting as a lion or a tiger but a goat, a sheep and, of course, man's best friend, a dog.

American football still does this. Up until last week the Cleveland Browns had Swagger the bullmastiff. He's just retired with a decent pension after a long stint at the job.

Nick told me that Ellie the Elland Road Elephant's head is carefully stored and has a number in the official database in case Leeds United ever open a museum. She got booted out when Lucas the Kop Kat came along, Leeds United's current mascot.

I can just picture Ellie's head holding pride of place in the Whites' museum.

The best kept secret in football?

It's the number one rule of a football mascot that, just like a superhero, they keep their identity secret.

Apart from one in particular...

When I was doing my challenge to run to 40 football clubs for charity back in 2014, I arrived at Wolverhampton Wanderers a bit low and struggling.

I was over halfway through the 250 miles when Wolfie ran up to me and gave me a massive hug. It put a huge smile on my face, but then he wouldn't leave me alone.

I thought it was funny but 30 minutes later after doing press and photos, Wolfie was still a little too over-enthusiastic and was squeezing the life out of me. I sat on one of the seats for a minute and he sat next to me.

I started to talk to the mascot, don't ask me why, and again another hug. Everybody around me was giggling.

Wolfie did the thing mascots should never do and revealed the face underneath.

It was my best mate. She was sweating and crying with laughter.

Charlie Webster with Wolfie, mascot of Wolverhampton Wanderers
'Wolfie did the thing mascots should never do - reveal'

Swanny, Wolfie and Robbie

Back to Fred the Red, who refused to reveal his identity but did tell me a funny story involving him and 39 other mascots from the early 2000s.

They included Cyril the Swan of Swansea City and Wolfie, who had both been in the news already...

Cyril had just got himself into a bit of bother when he went head-to-head with Millwall's Zampa the Lion, literally. He pulled poor Zampa's head off and drop-kicked it into the crowd.

And a few years before that in 1999, Wolfie confronted Bristol City's three little pigs in a stand-off at Ashton Gate because they wouldn't let him borrow their ball. All four of them were made to leave the ground.

Fred the Red with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson may not have approved of some of the antics Fred the Red has admitted to getting up to during the former Manchester United manager's tenure

The 40 mascots had travelled from all over the country down to London to appear on Ant & Dec's ITV show, Slap Bang.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. It only lasted six episodes.

The plan was all 40 mascots would run on stage for the last 30 seconds of the show but poor Fred got stuck in a lift with 2001 Popstars winners Hear'Say, and ended up running on too late so missed his moment.

But all was not lost as the mascots had seen fellow guest Robbie Williams from a distance while they were all hanging around in the ITV garden before the Hear'Say lift incident.

Later they followed Robbie to find out his hotel room number and waited until after the show when he was settled in his room.

Cyril, known as 'Swanny' by the rest of the mascots, led the charge and the 40 of them took it in turns to knock on Robbie's door and then do a runner.

All he saw were random animal heads running down the corridor giggling. This apparently went on for ages.

Robbie, if you are reading this, you now know the culprits: a swan, a wolf and a red devil. I know where Fred lives if you want his address by the way.

The mascot that jumps out of its own mouth... no really

Chiba Lotte Marines' fish mascot
A fish that vomits out its own skeleton - what's not to like about the mascot of Japanese baseball team Chiba Lotte Marines?

My favourite mascot is actually away from football, but I think he should be brought over as an honorary member for the FA Cup final.

Japanese baseball's Chiba Lotte Marines have Nazo no Sakana (Mysterious Fish). He is a neon fish head that spits up its own skeleton.

Basically, the guy jumps through the head's mouth. It then evolved to have a giant zip on the back of its head. It unzipped and out came an anthropomorphic fish with a blue head and colourful fins on its back.

Marketing genius. Kids love the Mysterious Fish toy.

There are some funny characters, a lot have made significant amounts of money for local charities, and they do make a difference with their funny dances and sometimes odd behaviour.

Would you be without yours? No, of course not. Why? Because they are fun.

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