I’VE got a job for you,” said the boss one Monday morning. “And it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.”
Excited, I wondered what adrenaline-pumping, life-enhancing activity I was going to be asked to try so that I could recount the story of my adventure for Daily Post readers. Skydiving? Base jumping? Extreme ironing?
A moment’s dramatic pause from the boss, and then: “You’re going to dress up as Wrex the Dragon at Wrexham’s next home match!”
My heart stopped. Jumping off cliffs I could just about have steeled myself for, but spending two hours entertaining young football fans while prancing round in a gigantic dragon’s costume? That was scary.
The task facing me was to live up to previous Wrexham mascots – especially the legendary Rockin’ Robin, who once famously rode around the Mold Road Stand on a bicycle and was renowned for showing his feathered end to the away fans at the Racecourse.
The game was fast approaching – high-flying promotion play-off hopefuls Wycombe Wanderers were the visitors. Nervous, I phoned Wrexham club secretary Geraint Parry to find out what he wanted from Wrex.
“You need to be good with kids and have a big personality,” he said. “Basically we need somebody who can be bigger than the costume.”
Bigger than the costume, eh? I didn’t realise just how big the costume would be!
An hour before kick off I arrived at the ground to be greeted by a grinning Geraint, who showed me the way to the locker room, where the huge red mask of Wrex was looking back at me with enormous cartoon eyes.
It was like a giant red Babygro, with four claws on each hand instead of four fingers and a thumb. Over the top went the Wrexham shirt and shorts that were surely the biggest ever produced, and finally the head, with a mesh to look through where the Dragon’s mouth is.
Twenty to three came round fast, and it was time to go and meet my public – I walked gingerly out of the players’ tunnel and the party started.
“Wrex! Wrex!” came the shouts from tots in the Sainsbury’s Stand poking their heads round the tunnel entrance in anxious anticipation of the players emerging. Straight away a dad got a photo of his two young sons with Wrex, and youngsters piled to the front of the stand asking for high-fives, hugs and even autographs.
Unfortunately controversy soon marred my Dragons debut. The match was still in its infancy when the fourth official marched over to me and told me I had to move on.
Apparently one of the linesmen kept seeing me, a seven-foot cuddly Dragon, in his peripheral vision, thinking I was a Wrexham player standing in an offside position! Didn’t the tail dangling from my shorts give it away, or does Neil Roberts also have an appendage on his rear end?
My heart warmed when a chorus of boos was directed towards the official in support of Wrex – everywhere I went in the stadium after that I was asked by fans why I had been “sent off”.
Nevertheless, I skipped off to the other end of the Sainsbury’s stand, inadvertently running in front of the Wrexham dug-out along the way (my apologies to Brian Carey for that).
At the other end of the ground, however, the fans were less receptive of Wrex, many of them being old-school devotees of the Rockin’ Robin.
“Wrex, you’re s***!” shouted one fan. “Bring back Rockin’ Robin!”
I cupped my hands to my ears, inviting the abuse in defiant footballer-style, to the loud amusement of the heckler’s companion.
Before long Wrexham had conceded, the fans became unsettled, and it would have taken a better Dragon than I to lift the crowd’s spirits. I admit I spent most of the first half leaning against the railings, chatting to fans (What? That’s what Dragons do isn’t it?) but at half time I sensed an opportunity for more tomfoolery.
As some of the children from the Sainsbury’s Stand took to the pitch for a penalty shoot-out, I ran on to see if I could get a kick. Some of the kids wanted to play at being a Dragon slayer, though, and flailed fake punches at me while I rolled around on the ground in what I hoped was comedy style.
Some of them, however, refusing to believe I was a real dragon despite my protestations, wanted to find out who was behind the mask. Geraint’s words echoed in my head: “Don’t take the mask off – it’ll spoil the magic.” So, while I allowed them to dive on top me, punch me and kick me, I heroically rebuffed all their attempts to pull off my head!
As anyone who was at the game will testify, it was not the best home performance at the Racecourse this season. In the second half, a winner for Wycombe and an outrageous offence by the visiting keeper, for which he was sent off, distracted the fans’ attention from the shenanigans of a big velour lizard.
I spent the rest of the game having pictures taken before enjoying a kickabout in the Kop with two young fans – and afterwards it was a welcome relief to walk around the Racecourse completely unrecognised.