Have you seen this man… er, lion…
If you have seen him before, well done. He’s been keeping a low profile. He’s Pride the Lion and he is the official mascot of Team GB. His presence at the Olympics, however, has been kept to the world of cuddly toys and kids pyjamas – as you can see here at the Olympic online shop.
We’re prepared to venture that the omnipresence of that pair of egomaniacs Wenlock and Mandeville – we blogged about them HERE just the other day – has also helped to keep Pride out of the spotlight.
Perhaps the incident in Essex last week, where police and emergency services were mobilized after a report of a lion on the loose (full story at the BBC HERE) was really Pride the Lion skulking away, depressed at having been bullied out of the spotlight by W&M.
The practice of an “official” mascot for organized sports competitions is a relatively recent one. It dates back to 1966 when the World Cup was staged here in England (can’t remember who won that one, drop us a line if you can jog our memory) with the final staged at Wembley.
World Cup Willie was his name – a lion whose mane seems to have been combed forward into a modish Beatle haircut. Here he is…
[The World Cup, for those is deepest North America, is a football competition contested every four years, the winner of which is crowned World Champion. Spain is the current World Champion. And by football we mean soccer, the world’s greatest team sport. Again, you know our email address if you’d like to take umbrage.)
So… sports mascots are yet another London invention. Sort of…
The idea of a fictional character designed to represent an international sports tournament (and to be exploited for commercial purposes relating to said tournament) is a new-ish phenomena, and was born here in London, in an office at Piccadilly, in the 60s. The idea of a mascot goes back much further.
A number of British Army regiments in the 19th Century began to employ live animals as good luck charms – a practice that continues in some quarters to the present day.
Taken up by football teams all over England, a travelling menagerie of bantam cocks, donkeys, billy goats and even monkeys accompanied teams as the advent of both rail travel and the half-day holiday for the working man on Saturdays combined to make football the national game. Fingerprints of this time can still be seen – perhaps most famously in Sunderland, where the team’s nickname remains The Black Cats in honour of their mascot of yore, a stray moggy found at Roker Park, then the home ground of Sunderland. The cat’s adoption, it is believed, immediately resulted in an upturn of Sunderland’s fortunes.
Following the first world war, live animal mascots were superseded by the tradition that still flourishes today: men and women dressed up in animal suits. An early such example can be found in the 1920’s here in London where Millwall F.C were represented by a man in a lion suit. The club’s emblem is a Lion Rampant, harking back to their foundation as the works team of Scottish firm J.T Morgan, a canning and preserves factory based on the Isle of Dogs with a workforce recruited in part from the great jam making city of Dundee. Their ground is called The Den.
That other lion, World Cup Willie – selected ahead of number two choice, a bull dog – from 1966 was the brainchild of Walter Tuckwell, a former employee of both Walt Disney and J. Arthur Rank. He believed the original World Cup poster to be a little too stuffy (it was simply an image of the trophy against a Union Flag backdrop, and can be seen in the poster above) and in the youthful spirit of the times came up with the idea of a mascot.
A single was put – Lonnie Donegan’s World Cup Willie was released on the Pye label… but failed to trouble the charts. The designer who created World Cup Willie – Reg Hoye – was credited on the record label.
Simon Cowell, are you reading this? How about getting Pride the Lion into the studio for a single? It would do wonders for his public profile. You could even make a TV gameshow out of it: Pride the Lion vs. Wenlock & Mandeville competing for the Christmas No.1 spot in the charts.
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