Life as Lenny the Lion: The man in Shrewsbury Town's costume
Every club has one, whether it is a giant furry animal or an inanimate object brought to life. In an attempt to liven up the crowd prior to kick off, they will dance, throw sweets to the kids or have a penalty shootout with the opposition. But just what drives someone to want to dress up every week and show off their childish side?
Sam Morris spent the day with Shrewsbury Town’s Lenny the Lion at the Shrews’ home game with Stockport County to experience a day in the life of a football mascot.
Ron Millar, 50, has been Lenny for the past 16 seasons, but he didn’t start off his mascot career as a Lion.
“We had a player, Darren Rowbotham, who used to do the penguin walk when he scored. So one game, I hired a penguin suit and was going to do the penguin walk in it if he scored.
“Unfortunately he didn’t. Nobody knew who it was in the penguin suit but I was given a bucket of sweets to throw into the crowd and that is how it all started.
“BBC Radio Shropshire had a phone-in about it and got me on air to explain myself. Before I knew it, they were having a vote on what Shrewsbury should have as a mascot and that was the birth of Lenny the Lion” explained Ron, who has supported the club since he was a boy.
We arrived at the Greenhous Meadow at around half past one and Ron went to have a look to see who had turned up.
“If there is a school trip to the game, then I will get dressed up earlier and make a bit more effort with them as it is a special day for them so I try to make it as enjoyable as possible”, Ron told me as he wandered around by the dugouts.
I left Ron to turn into his alter-ego Lenny and just a few minutes later he re-appeared in his Lion outfit carrying his bucket of sweets that are now infamous amongst Shrewsbury fans.
But it is not just the fans that want a lolly from Lenny, with the current England number one a keen advocate of them.
“When Joe Hart broke into our first team squad he was still only 15 and at school, but he was regularly on the substitutes bench. He always used to say to me, ‘don’t forget my lollies; make sure you have my lollies.’
“So I had to make sure that I had a few left for Joe and he would be sitting on the bench with lollies on his knees and eating them while waiting for his chance to come on!”
As the ground began to fill up, Ron, or Lenny as he now is, started to wander around the home areas of the stadium, being met with cries of ‘Lenny, Lenny, give me a sweet Lenny.’
“This is the best part of doing the mascot. One of the first times I did this I remember giving a sweet to this lad and his face just lit up and he went running off to his dad telling him how Lenny gave him a lolly.
“I love seeing the kids smiling and enjoying the football and anything I can do to make their day better is brilliant. These youngsters are the future of the club and when I see them happy it makes me think ‘this is something I have got to do for a while.’
“The scary thing is though, some of the kids I used to throw lollies to back in the day are now adults who are bringing their own children to the game. I must be getting old! But they all still want my sweets!” Lenny said.
With this game being the first of the final five matches and with the Shrews well in with a shot of automatic promotion, Lenny believes it is vital for the fans to turn up in their numbers and cheer the boys on to promotion, and he will be doing his thing.
“Hopefully the sweets will give everyone the sugar rush to keep them going and give them the energy to make some noise to spur the team onto promotion. It is what we all want and we all need to pull together to make it happen.”
Having thrown his sweets into the crowd, including some in the away end, Lenny retires to his changing room and returns to his human form. Ron, as he now is, isn’t a mascot that stays in his outfit all game, believing that it can be a bit of a distraction.
“I don’t think it is necessarily a benefit having the mascot pitch side during the game. We have all seen when mascots get in trouble with officials and sometimes even the police, so I prefer to do all my work before the game” Ron said.
As we sat down to watch the Shrews try and get the vital three points, I asked Ron how long he plans on keeping Lenny the Lion going.
“Cor, blimey. One more game. And then another and then another! In all seriousness, I will keep going until I physically can’t do it anymore or someone else wants to take over.”