Confessions of… a Mascot Designer…

To continue our short series of confessions from Swindon Town fans, David Squires admits was the man responsible for designing Rockin’ Robin…

A couple of weeks ago, the mascot for the 2015 Asian Cup was revealed. ‘Nutmeg’ is a large wombat who wears a fixed smirk and a left eyebrow that is permanently arched. The promotional photograph of him standing behind some Australian children therefore took on a something of sinister tone.

Naturally, and appropriately, the design drew some criticism. Mascots are rubbish and succeed only in amusing unintentionally (as illustrated by this wonderful collection of photographs of mascots observing minutes silences, highlighting just how ridiculous we have become as a species: http://www.wsc.co.uk/forum-index/27-football/852607-mascots-observing-minutes-silences).

But despite my loathing of mascots, I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy for whichever sap was given the task of designing Nutmeg, because for a short time in the late nineties I was that sap, and it was in that role that I designed Rockin’ Robin.

Bear with me here, I need to go back a bit.

At the time, I was trying to eke out a career as an illustrator, with very little success. Eventually, it was Swindon Town who took pity on me and I was commissioned to produce a caricature of Steve McMahon to be sold as a print in the shop. This was during the height of McMahon’s popularity, as he had just won Swindon a league title. I set to work on a Godfather-style parody, with a brooding McMahon peering out at the viewer in a Don Corleone-like pose. I dropped it in at the club and returned home, where I prepared for the inevitable barrage of phone calls bidding for my services.

A few weeks of silence passed before I went back into the club to have another chat with the marketing manager. They wouldn’t be able to use the picture, as “Steve” wasn’t happy with it. Still, they did have another project in mind. It was at this point that our conversation was interrupted by none other than “Steve” himself. It was all I could do to stop myself from dropping to my knees and showering his Mizuno trainers in kisses.  The marketing manager introduced me. “Steve, this is Dave – the man who did that Godfather cartoon”. McMahon’s face contracted, his lips pursed into a tight knot, eyes widening. “You cunt”, he hissed, “You made me look like Paul fucking Daniels”.

“Well, Steve, if the skull cap fits, mate” was the response I later dreamed of dispatching to his stupid pink face, but at the time the most I could summon was a nervous laugh and a weak explanation about the complexity of caricature work,  but he’d already turned on his heels and stropped off.

Despite the psychologically scarring impact of this brief exchange, I still had the ‘other project’. The club wanted me to redesign their mascot.

When I first started following Swindon in a serious way, the mascot was just a bloke in a ‘moonraker’ smock. There was no foam padding to protect him from the rain of coins from the away fans penned into ‘The Wedge’; no mask of anonymity to hide his face from the drinkers in his local. As football began to change, someone at the club must have decided that what people really wanted was a show off in a synthetic fibre animal costume. The cumulative effect of thousands of indifferent eyes must have worn this first Rockin’ Robin costume thin, so a re-boot was in order.

I’ll be honest, my heart wasn’t in it, but I followed the brief closely.  Just count yourselves lucky that I resisted suggestions to include those twin identifiers of cool: sunglasses and a baseball cap worn backwards. You all know what he looks like; the costume is mostly the same today. What you may have forgotten is the existence of his short-lived sidekick, ‘Funky Fledgling’, who I designed but – importantly – did NOT name. They wanted that character to be edgey and – oh God – ‘cheeky’, which I expressed in my design by giving him a cape. It was never really established what the relationship was between the two mascots, but Funky Fledgling didn’t stick around very long. Perhaps the dominant robin killed and ate his rival, perhaps a cat got him, or perhaps the drama student who ‘played’ him finished his Drama A-level and moved away to university.

I don’t think I even got paid the pathetically low fee I had negotiated. Around this time the club was in the midst of a routine financial implosion and I didn’t want to add to the list of angry creditors by demanding remuneration for something that I was ashamed of. Not that I’ve ever been allowed to forget my involvement in his creation. “He’s fun, isn’t he?” my friends deadpan whenever Rockin’ is body popping in front of the Town End, and I can always tell if they’ve had time to kill before a game when I receive items of memorabilia bearing his image in the post (the current fridge magnet tally stands at four).

This, however, was not the end of my mascot designing career. The costume manufacturers asked me to provide some more designs as clubs across the land all came to the conclusion that what they really needed to get fans back through their gates was an owl or a fox or a swan or a dog or a lion or a tiger or a dinosaur or a bear or a duck or a lion or a lion or a lion or a lion or a lion or a lion blankly waving at the family enclosure.

I think the worst costume I designed was the Champions League logo driving a Ford Focus, with its feet sticking out of the bottom like Fred Flintstone.

I did a lot of designs for charities and local authorities and a few for rugby league clubs, but thankfully the only design I ever submitted for a football club that got made was Herbie the Hammer at West Ham. My sketch of the costume depicted Herbie in an action pose heading a football. The manufacturers clearly took this too literally, as when they produced the final outfit they made it so that the eyes in his hammer face were always looking up, as if asking the heavens why he had been cursed with such a grotesquely angular head. Herbie also had a teddy bear accomplice, ‘Bubbles’ which I never really understood the point of.

Bizarrely, at one point Timmy Mallet threatened legal action against West Ham, as he believed Herbie infringed the copyright of Mallet’s Mallet. Seriously. However, it wasn’t the prospect of a lengthy court battle with a 1980s television presenter that ended my mascot-designing career, but the request to create a female cat character for Bristol City.

I couldn’t control the urge to lumber them with a ridiculous mascot and got carried away, submitting a frankly offensive creation called ‘Trashton’. This really was a sign of my immaturity; all I had to do was design something inoffensively rubbish, but I got overexcited and drew a street drinker in a boob tube. I didn’t get any more work offers after that.

So next time you see a mascot that looks like an escapee from The Island of Doctor Moreau, think of the poor bugger who sold his soul to design him.

Follow David Squires on Twitter

David on TheGuardian.com – http://www.theguardian.com/profile/david-squires

More of David’s work at TheSunshineRoom.com

Probably David’s finest work – his entry for Neil Ruddock into our STFC Hall of Shame

Rockin’ Robin images – source swindontownfc.co.uk / thisisswindontownfc.co.uk

Mascot images / sketches – courtesy David Squires

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