THE WANDERER: Racing to be named the champion mascot

JUMPING FOR GLORY Going claw-to-claw in a bid to to be the first past the winning post

JUMPING FOR GLORY Going claw-to-claw in a bid to to be the first past the winning post

First published in Sport

LAST weekend was about the Grand National and the University boat race, while the London Marathon was big news yesterday.

But none of those compare to the really important contest for superiority in football – the mascot Grand National.

Introduced for the first time in 1999, it is an annual event high on the agenda for the likes of Wanderers’ Lofty the Lion, Manchester United’s Fred the Red and Manchester City’s Moonchester.

And when you watch some of the races back on YouTube, you cannot help but raise a smile as swans, owls, dragons and even dinosaurs go claw-to-claw in a bid to become champion mascot.

Taking place at Kempton Park racecourse, usually on the May Day bank holiday, what began as quirky bit of fun is now taken deadly seriously.

This is not just about raising money for charity anymore, it is also about club pride.

So what if Burnley beat Wanderers, we can get our own back if Lofty races past Bertie Bee to glory over the jumps at Kempton.

Like many other big races, this one has not been short of controversy in the past either.

In 2001, there was a steward’s inquiry when Leicester’s Freddie the Fox was first past the winning post in great style after it transpired the runner inside the costume was Olympic 400m hurdler Matthew Douglas and not the usual incumbent.

Complaints saw the result changed and Dazzler the Lion from Rushden and Diamonds was proclaimed the new winner.

Of course, it can be hard for mascots to fit training for the big race into their hectic schedule so no wonder there are always rumours of ringers.

Matchday remains the busiest day – it can be tiring work running up and down the touchline, revving fans up and winding up the opposition.

You can even get yourself into trouble if you are not careful. Wolves mascot Wolfie got into hot water after an altercation with Bristol City’s Three Little Pigs in 2010 when he did a little more than huff and puff in their direction. And then there was Wolves’ fans getting irate with our own Lofty in 1997.

The funniest mascot match drama, though, has to be when an assistant referee wrongly flagged for offside at Oldham in 2000 when he mistook Chaddy the Owl on the touchline for a Latics centre-forward against Peterborough.

It must have been the big furry head that confused him I suppose! Lofty – you have been warned.

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