As the FA continues to tighten their rules in the game of football – both on and off the pitch – it seems they are determined to kill off some of the fun in the beautiful game. Club mascots are so dormant these days that in most cases they might as well not bother showing up. Being a Hull fan I used to go to Boothferry Park and see football from the very bottom of the football league, and a lot of it was not pretty. Long hoof up the field was a regular tactic back in the old Division 3, not just for Hull but for most of their opponents. I didn’t go to the games because of the quality of football, but for the love of the club and a desire to see them climb the division and through the ranks of the football league. The lack of quality at times had to be compensated by other forms of entertainment, one of which was our club mascot ‘Roary’ the tiger. On one occasion he sneaked up on the opposition mascot before kick-off, and with his opposition number’s back turned away, proceeded to jump on him, ‘punching’ him in the head and dragging him to the ground. The seeming spontaneity of his action had the crowd laughing and cheering, with big grins echoed on the faces around Boothferry Park. These sort of antics were all good natured and never done to offend or hurt anybody, but simply for entertainment. Unfortunately, that individual who donned the Roary outfit was sacked, after too many ‘controversial’ events. On one such occasion, he reportedly ran the full length of the away fans’ stand, flicking a ‘V’ and middle finger alternately to some disgruntled travelling supporters, to signal City going 2-1 ahead. The next person to fill his shoes had a distinctly dull personality and one might assume they had been told not to cause any offence; just throw sweets to the kids and don’t do anything people aren’t expecting.
Most recently, Preston North End’s mascot received media attention when he was escorted away from the pitch-side by stewards for apparently distracting Derby County keeper Stephen Bywater. I wouldn’t condone mascots going so far as interfering with play in any way – and perhaps ‘Deepdale Duck’ did go one step too far on this occasion – but mascots add some light-hearted entertainment for the fans and I for one don’t think this is a bad thing. At the end of the day, football is about entertainment, an enjoyable day and something to put a smile on the fans’ faces. Taking away some of the silliness from the mascots is taking away a light-hearted element to the game and one which most fans enjoy seeing. The clubs aren’t to blame for this, it’s the pressure put on them by FIFA and the FA, and the penalties given to them should their mascot push the boundaries too far.
The shirt removal ban, introduced in 2004 by FIFA, is an odd one in most football fans’ eyes. It was a non-issue that FIFA decided to make an issue. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) who determine the laws of the game, ruled “A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour.” Quite what is “unsporting” about removing a shirt in celebration, I don’t think many people could say. Bringing in the ban, they produced some very weak reasons as to why it was necessary, one of which being that sponsors were unhappy at their name on the jersey not being seen for a few seconds. This seems quite a petty argument to put forward from the sponsors’ behalf, if that is the case (it’s not as though every player takes their shirt off; fans still have 10 other players with the same name on their shirts to look at for those few seconds). The most recent high-profile victim of this rule was Mario Balotelli, who didn’t even take off his shirt, but lifted it up to reveal another t-shirt with the slogan ‘WHY ALWAYS ME’, in the Manchester derby a week ago. The players should understand by now the removal of their shirt under any circumstance will result in a yellow card, so they should be able to resist doing it, but it seems an absurd rule from the get-go and one, which is completely unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the rule is highly unlikely to be reversed now, or at any point in the future. But if FIFA continue to bring in further rules and restrictions such as this, and their restrictions on player celebrations with fans – which essentially prevents them from coming into contact with fans – then who knows where it might end? Maybe FIFA would be better to focus their energy on issues such as goal-line technology – which most fans are crying out for – and other developments which could make a positive impact on the game, instead of bringing in more petty bureaucracy.