As part of my year long volunteering challenge I have been asking for suggestions of things I can try. My first challenge came in this week to help Stalybridge Celtic while dressed as a badger. The Bower Badger is the team’s mascot and can regularly be seen leaving its set to visit Bower Fold to show its love for its favourite team. I arrived at the grounds on Tuesday night and fitted into a tiny parking space after a seventeen point turn. At first I couldn’t get out of the car but then I was helped out by a friendly car park steward. I was excited to be the mascot today but worried about the size of the suit, the eye holes and whether I was going to fall over in front of the two teams and more importantly the fans. I went to several gates to find the man I was looking for, mumbling to confused faces that I was the Bower Badger. Eventually I met a man who looked like he’d been expecting me and he explained that they’re been a badger related issue. There was no suit to wear; the real Bower Badger was somewhere else complete with suit. At first I thought my trip may have been wasted and I panicked because I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back out of the car park. I needn’t have worried because there was a plan B to go out on the field as the mascot at the start of the match in a football kit. Hang on a minute. That might be worse. Then people will see my face if I slip over. I quickly changed and found myself on the pitch being introduced to the captain as the mascot. I think he was expecting someone younger as children are often the mascot. The teams were warming up which was doubly important this evening as it was freezing. Suddenly the teams started running off the pitch. I panicked and ran after them. They went into their dressing rooms. I heard the Captain shout “you know what to do lads” what he said next are trade secrets. Anyway the door slammed shut soon after.

I stood in the corridor nervously. I had only seen one live football match before and it didn’t have mascots. What do they do? I remember a poorly little girl going out on the pitch with David Beckham once during an England match I couldn’t really remember what she had done either. The teams lined up and I recognised the man at the front as the referee. Suddenly we were running onto the pitch. I shouted back to the captain “where do I go?” He told me to follow the referee. I ran a bit too far and the captain called me back. I could hear the announcer saying I was from Tameside Radio so I waved. The captain told me to shake hands with the opposition. They looked more surprised they were shaking my hand than anyone all night. I copied the team mumbling “good luck lads, all the best, good game”. I then ran in the wrong direction again as the captain called me back to the right side of the pitch. It was now my time to shine with a few passes on the pitch and a shot at the goal. I took a penalty just like Chorley did later in the game. The only difference was theirs went in winning them the match. I was encouraged to go closer. For a slight moment I thought I might score but the goalkeeper was able to catch the ball with one hand. I think my football dreams ended in that moment.

As I ran to shoot a team member shouted “don’t slip” because the pitch was pretty treacherous under foot and I wasn’t wearing football boots. I made it back to the centre of the pitch for a quick photograph before my time on the floodlit sporting stage was over. I ran back to the changing rooms feeling very out of breath and aware that that the lads had another 90 minutes of running up and down that pitch. I thought they were in good hands as the captain had certainly given me good and clear direction.

I went to watch the rest of the match with warm hospitality from Stalybridge Celtic and warm soup. This would have been a much better column if Stalybridge Celtic had won that night and I would have been a truly lucky mascot. As things stood my luck didn’t rub off perhaps they needed a badger after all.