Reports comparing the price of mascot experiences across Premier League clubs have highlighted how West Ham is more expensive than other clubs – quoting £700 as the cost. In reality, that was the cost for a Category A game – it’s actually £450 for a category C Game – and on a regular basis the club invites disadvantaged kids to be mascot for free.
It’s hard not to sense that the media was rounding on West Ham again as the reports about mascot costs moved quite seamlessly onto a rant about the London Stadium deal. All the same, £700 is a considerable sum and you’d have to feel that the club have overpriced it a bit.
It would be nice to think that every kid who follows the Hammers could have the chance to be a mascot and run out onto the field with their heroes. When I asked my eldest son if he was excited by being a mascot for West Ham, he replied: ‘I had nosebleeds every night for a week before the game’.
To be honest, I was pretty sleepless with excitement myself in the build up to the big day and felt more nervous on the morning than I did on my wedding day! The game was against Gillingham on March 27, 2004. This was the season after ‘that’ squad managed to get relegated despite having Di Canio, Cole, Sinclair, Johnson, James, Defoe, etc.
As such, the Hammers squad for our big day was not quite as illustrious but still had the likes of Michael Carrick, Bobby Zamora and Tomas Repka. Having grown up in Basildon and spent my early years being dragged along with my Dad’s mates from Yardley’s, I have had plenty of game hours watching from the Chicken Run.
After all those years, having our kid run out on the hallowed Upton Park turf was a family dream! We ended up with a dozen of us going along to lend support to young James. As for the experience, we arrived around noon and were taken on a guided tour of the ground and then to the club bar to relax with the WAGS.
Around 1.30pm, James and I went in to meet the team and take photos and get autographs. The whole dressing room affair was remarkably informal as the players were getting changed and exchanging banter, many in their underwear!
It was a unique insight into the team dynamics; Matty Etherington, Bobby Zamora and Marlon Harewood were particularly friendly while David Connolly came across as an aloof little man reading the newspaper and not really engaging with anybody. Meeting Tomas Repka was quite an experience as he was very much like his on-field persona – scarily focused and exuding aggression!
Alan Pardew managed to say hello but seemed pretty distracted. In contrast, Ludek Miklosko was the goalkeeping coach and we enjoyed a lengthy chat reliving some of his best games. Later he made sure that James got to take shots on goal during the warm up. As for the game itself, it was a modest affair – having lost 4-1 in their previous game to our old enemy Millwall, the players were glad to somewhat redeem themselves against a pedestrian Gillingham side.
Bobby Zamora put us 1-0 ahead before we had reached our seat after the pre-match formalities. We weren’t overly bothered as we were still riding high on the excitement of all the pre-match exposure to the team. The Hammers ran out 2-1 winners in the end.
We remained in contact with the club afterwards and they have been really generous in allowing us to see the team in pre-season training on a number of occasions since. I can’t speak for other clubs, but our experience with West ham was really good and something that will always be remembered as a big day within our family.
After 50 years of watching the West ham circus through thick and thin, the most memorable moment for me has been the smug mug on my father surrounded by family watching his grandson run out on the pitch. In one word – priceless.