If you’ve ever tuned into a football game from start to finish, you’ve probably seen the teams walking onto the field with children, each player hand-in-hand with a kid. And if you have, you’ve also probably thought to yourself, “Those kids are so lucky.”
We certainly have.
But have you ever wondered why they’re escorting the football players in the first place?
A football tradition
The children who walk out side-by-side with the football players are actually called ‘player escorts’ or ‘mascot children,’ and they have been around for a while now.
One of the earliest mascot children was Wayne Rooney, a legend in English football. He escorted the Premier League team, Everton FC, as their mascot in their match against Liverpool in November 1996.
Back then, each team usually had just one or two children to escort the whole squad. But beginning in the 2000s, every player had their own personal escort.
This practice started as a way for football games to act as a platform to raise awareness for different advocacies. For instance, in the 2002 World Cup, FIFA and UNICEF worked together on “Say Yes to Children,” a campaign to protect children’s rights.
According to UEFA, for this campaign, the two organizations specifically gave children a “prime role at each match, accompanying each player on to the pitch in a symbolic action reminding football enthusiasts that they have a major role to play in building a world fit for children.“
Now, it has become a tradition for players to walk out and meet the crowd, hand-in-hand with a kid. You’ll notice this practice not only at World Cup matches but also in other major football leagues worldwide.
But, it isn’t always driven by a cause.
For a price?
In 2014, a study released by The Guardian showed that more than half of the clubs in the English Premier League were charging around £450 to £600 for children to become player mascots.
These ‘mascot packages’ reportedly also covered hospitality, free kits, signed balls, match tickets, and other gifts.
However, the prices that football clubs place on children becoming mascots were met with much scrutiny. Many believed that these prices “excluded families from poorer backgrounds.“
While not all Premier League teams charge fees for player mascots, some of them reserve the roles for the junior members of the club or season ticket holders.
An experience like no other
Regardless of the requirements to become a mascot in football, every kid who gets to walk onto the pitch alongside a player is living a dream.
For instance, Wayne Rooney, who we mentioned earlier was a player escort for Everton FC eventually became one of the club’s best players in their history. Walking onto the pitch with the team at such a young age definitely left an impression on him as a young footballer.
In addition to this, the World Cup is also a stage for dreams to come true. In particular, McDonald’s has been a huge sponsor of the tournament for many years. And as sponsors, one of the main things they bring to the event is the player mascots.
In the 2014 edition of the World Cup, McDonald’s selected 1,408 kids from 70 different countries to escort the players onto the pitch, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only do the children get to meet world-class athletes, but they also get the chance to travel and witness the beauty of the sport.
Could you imagine escorting players like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo onto the pitch of a career-defining match? It’s a story one could tell for years to come.
Banner image from New York City Football Club on Twitter.