Mascot Memoirs — Sunderland 2 — Portsmouth 1

Gareth Waterhouse
Aug 20 · 9 min read

I have had a great weekend. For many reasons.

1 — It was a looong weekend, I was off Friday and Monday 😊
2 — I had a Daddy and Daughter day yesterday where we went to the farm and had a lovely day together 💕
3 — The kids wanted to go out litter picking so we went yesterday together and they loved it ❤
4 — Sunderland beat Portsmouth 2–1 ⚽
5 — Finley got to be mascot and meet all the players and manager at Sunderland AFC for his birthday present 🎁

In case you were wondering this post is going to be about numbers 4 and 5.

Let’s talk about the big one, for Finley’s 8th birthday, my wife and I paid for him to be mascot for a game, for £170 you get 2 tickets to the game (1 for an adult and 1 for the mascot), a home kit, 10% off voucher for the stadium shop, autograph book, pen, bag and a program — which I didn’t think was too bad. Especially when compared to other clubs ( We chose this game for a number of reasons, it’s always a big game against Portsmouth, we were away the other week for the first home game of the season against Oxford and with it being live on Sky meant we could record it and watch it back again and again and again as has proven the case!

Finley had been mascot before, but away at AFC Wimbledon, which was a great experience for him, but this was his first time being mascot at Sunderland, so the experience would be very different. It’s always something I wish I had done, but now Finley had the chance and I’m not sure who was more excited, me or him!

We decided to make a weekend of it, and my mum and dad travelled up as well. My dad was well enough to travel, but not to drive, so this meant my mum had to drive him all the way up, which is a long, long journey. My wife, Finley and Jessica and I travelled up together, and made good time. We arrived up at the hotel and the kids went into the indoor soft play area that is there (one of the main reasons we chose it), and ran off steam, after being stuck in the car for 6 hours, it’s definitely needed! We went to the stadium shop and picked up his football kit, he decided he wanted to spend the rest of his birthday money on the away kit, and I must say that without the sponsor the away kit looks really nice.

We took a trip down to the seafront (or “beachside” as Finley was calling it for some reason), went to the amusements and got an ice cream and walked along Roker beach. One of the nice things about our trips to Sunderland now is that the kids see it as a holiday, just like I used to when I used to travel up on holiday to see my Nan.

Finely and Jessica on the morning of the game

Anyway, the morning of the game came and I felt excited, Finley also felt excited as my Nan was telling anyone she met that he was going to be mascot! We kept his home kit in the bag it came in for fear of spilling breakfast down it, or getting it dirty! Jessica was excited as well, dressed in a Sunderland top to see her brother out on the pitch, at this point, I have no idea what she was expecting as she kept singing “Go Finley” and songs about Finley in the car, so whether she thought he was going to be playing I really don’t know!

We parked up and began the walk to the stadium, Finley had been singing “Jack Ross’ Red and White Army” in the car, I think this was his way of dealing with the nervous excitement he was feeling. Sure he’d been mascot before, but that was an away fixture in front of 7,000 fans, this was going to be live on Sky, at the Stadium of Light and in front of 28,000 fans. I’d be nervous if that was me!

Finley walking across the bridge to the Stadium of LIght

We walked over the Bridge, and Finley was talkative, and excited.

Once we got to the stadium, we said goodbye to my Mum and Dad as they went to sit in the season tickets, and my wife, Jessica, Finley and I went up to the main reception and went to wait for the mascot host to come down and start the day! We met all the other mascots, and 2 mascots who were going to be the Portsmouth mascots as well. Everyone was obviously very excited.

At 10.30 the host came, and it was a lovely guy named Malcolm, who I’ve seen in many backstage videos, and he was amazing. He took all the kids down, and as he passed Jessica he said for her to come as well, which was a lovely touch, which meant she got to see the players and manager as well. Finley took down his autograph book and his home shirt he got for his birthday (before we knew he would get a home kit for the mascot package — we assumed he’d be able to get an away kit with it, but never mind) to get signed.

Finley with his signed Sunderland shirt

They were down there for about 20 minutes, but he came back happy and holding his shirt with pride! We’ll definitely get that framed and hung up in his room.

Me and Super Kevin Phillips

He then got to play out on the pitch for a bit, I got my photos taken with two ex Sunderland players, one of which a real legend, Michael Gray and Kevin Phillips. So I was happy!

It was great seeing him out on the pitch, and I know that my Nan would have been so proud. The last time I felt that proud was taking him to his first football game against Norwich, almost made me well up!

Anyway, the time came for him to walk out onto the pitch, I was eager to know who he would have chosen, but as it turns out he said he didn’t mind, which was nice, he ended up with Max Power, and I was quite happy with that. He said Max had told him to applaud the fans as he walked out, which he did, then he lined up and shook everyone’s hand. He got to play football on the pitch again with Leadbitter and the other mascots, and then posed for the pre-game photo. He came off after the photo absolutely buzzing, and ready for the game!

The game itself was an entertaining game, it was Jessica’s first game, and in the first half I sat her on my lap and tried to explain everything that was happening with her. She then needed a wee, so I took her, but missed the Portsmouth goal! I could tell from the cheers that it wasn’t a Sunderland goal, so that was something at least!

It still meant that for the 3rd league game in a row, Sunderland had gone a goal down. I really hoped for Finley’s sake that we’d come back. We didn’t have to wait long for Jordan Willis to pop up with a lovely header, and from our seats we could tell it was in the moment it left his head! This did of course mean we were 1–1 now, and I desperately didn’t want another 1–1 (having already had 2 1–1 draws this season)! Luckily for us though, it was 2–1 not long after as McNulty (who looks to be an inspiring signing) set up McGeady who ran with it and got a bit of luck with a ricochet off one of the Portsmouth defenders, and then squared it across the goal for Maguire to simply tap in which meant 2–1 to Sunderland!

Jessica wasn’t enjoying the noise, but then as I remember from the Norwich game Finley didn’t like the noise either, so that wasn’t too surprising! In the second half my Mum and Dad came to sit with us, and Jess sat with my Mum and she was alright. To be fair she was an absolute angel for the whole weekend, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She said she’d come again but only if Nanny comes!

Finley mentioned at half time that he had a feeling Portsmouth would equalise, luckily for us, the feeling didn’t materialise! It was a massive win, the switch to 4 at the back made a big difference, I think Ozturk and Willis have the foundations of a strong centre back pairing and they compliment each other well. McGeady is a cut above as well, and shouldn’t be playing in this division, hopefully he can lead the charge to get us back to where we feel we belong. To break the 1–1 duck as well was massive, and against Pompey makes it even bigger. The game finished up and we ended up back down the seafront, the kids went in the amusements, then we went to the beach.

Jessica wanted to go in the sea, so she asked to take her socks off… then 5 minutes later, she asked to take off her trousers, so we ended up taking everything but her knickers off as she went to play in the sea with Finley who followed suit with his pants on. It wasn’t that warm, but obviously as a kid you don’t really notice the cold as much!

It was a nice way to end the “mini break”, in that Finley got to do something I had always dreamed of, and Jessica and Finley re-lived out what my childhood was like in terms of playing in the sea at Roker. It must have brought back many memories for my Mum and Dad, and I’m so glad that Finley and Jessica see it as just a special place as I did. Hopefully one day, they’ll bring their kids back up here, and the cycle continues.

One small improvement to the mascot experience that I’d like to see would be to move the parents of the mascots to the other side of the tunnel, so that when the players came out they’re on the side of the Sunderland players. As it stood we sent my Dad round to the other side to get a photo of him and Max coming out of the tunnel.

Anyway, I can’t thank Sunderland AFC enough for their help and for the care they gave to the mascots. Malcolm was absolutely amazing, the lady I dealt with in setting it all up Nichola went above and beyond on numerous occasions, and I’d like to say a massive thank you to all at Sunderland AFC for giving Finley (and even Jessica) a day that’ll be remembered forever.

The 2–1 win obviously helps a bit :)

Written by

I mostly write about work, testing and ASOS Tech. I occasionally write about Sunderland AFC.

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