‘Never take your head off’

HOR 041111 Howie the Hornet. photo by derek martin
HOR 041111 Howie the Hornet. photo by derek martin

HE said it with great seriousness. I still couldn’t help but laugh.

“The golden rule is: never take off your head in public.”

His voice morphs into a dark tone, and I halt my chuckling.

“I’ve seen people do it before,” eyes wide and transfixed on the table, “it’s not good.” He takes an uncomfortably large gulp from his water bottle, unbroken vision still table-bound. Matt Haynes snaps back into life and begins to reel off the Mascot Code of Conduct. It covers everything from costume etiquette to the legendary vow of silence.

So the urban myths are true – somewhere, locked away in a secret vault, probably guarded by a giant teddy bear and an oversized duck, are the documented guidelines mascots of Great Britain must adhere to.

“I’ve seen the PowerPoint presentation.

“There is a big mascot community that I never knew existed before. They even have an online forum where they all speak to each other about tips and arrange to meet before games.”

When he’s not working for Surrey Police, the 36-year-old plays helper to Howie the Hornet – Horsham Football Club’s mascot.

“About six years ago the Horsham FC Supporters Club came up with the idea of a mascot to raise publicity and to draw in more children to create a better community feel.

“So they brought this costume but had no one to fill it.

“The County Times was doing publicity shots one day so I said I would step in the costume. And I’ve been trying to get out ever since!”

But admittedly, the crowd-pleasing motivator just can’t get enough of his role as the loveable bug.

“I do get carried away some times.

“I just mess around but I love all of it. Interaction with the players is always a good laugh – being out on the pitch with them and kicking the ball around.

“But it’s all about entertaining children and the looks on their faces when they see Howie.

“Some of them get scared and start crying, but you never know what their reaction will be until you go up to them.”

And there’s one place you may want to avoid if these cheerleading creatures scare you – the Mascot Olympics.

Now in its third year, the games play host to characters from all over the country, and aims to challenge contestants with events such as tobogganing, wellington-boot tossing and the obstacle course.

Matt propels off the seat and lunges towards his almost comically large bag. He removes the hornet head, which expels a sinister pong of stale sweat, before producing one of the largest trophies I’ve ever seen.

Howie had taken home first place in this year’s Olympics.

“It’s all friendly fun, but this year I wanted to win.

“There’s a whole range of characters and the people that do it can be completely crazy.

His mouth breaks into an exaggerated smile. A look of pride.

“In a funny sort of way not only are you representing the football club, you’re representing the town as well.

“Although, a couple of times I’ve thought to myself someone younger should be doing this job. But then I think how weird it would be if I went to a game and saw someone else as Howie.”