FIFA needs to add mascots. I shouldn’t really have to explain this stance – it’s hardly controversial – but the game could benefit greatly from the addition of some goggle-eyed, freakish-looking caricatures on the sidelines. And no, I don’t mean the children who used to accompany players onto the pitch in pre-COVID times.
We’re talking about Partick Thistle’s abstract representation of angst, Kingsley, or West Brom’s imaginatively-named boiler with legs, who is called, well, Boiler Man. Even the more “normal” mascots like Arsenal’s Gunnersaurus or Manchester City’s Moonchester (it’s literally a bloody moon) would add another level to the FIFA 21 experience.
After all, each iteration of FIFA struggles to find something to differentiate it from the last edition. Yes, players and kits are updated and some changes are made to dribbling or AI or how accurate the crowd looks, but there are few changes that make as big a splash as adding mascots would. After all, we already get a shot of Jurgen Klopp looking moody when we lose our fifth consecutive Weekend League match, so why not add a camera angle showing the Gunnersaurus breaking down by the corner flag after you concede a particularly embarrassing Neymar scorpion kick?
You may think this is a strange hill to die on, but I have more of an affinity with mascots than most. While I’ve never managed to pull on the iconic Liver Bird uniform of Mighty Red, Liverpool’s iconic mascot, I once attended the annual Mascot Grand National as a teenager, chaperoning Rover, Tranmere Rovers’ beloved dog, to the prestigious race.
I can’t really remember why or how I was roped into it, but my dad was giving Rover a lift to a race course – again, no idea which one, but it was a fairly long trip – and I elected to come along. Rover spent most of the journey talking about his forthcoming holiday to Cuba that he was going on with his ex-girlfriend (they’d booked it when they were still together and both still wanted to go), but the race itself was obviously the main event.
The race was at an actual racecourse, on a day when no other races were happening, so about 30 people had turned up to embrace the pure spectacle of seeing 20 men dressed as various animals run about 100 metres. And while everyone was pretty matey before the running began, things soon got competitive. I’ll never forget watching Rover get screwed out of a podium finish because of a bullshit rule about his trainers – mascots with big silly shoes only ran half the distance to level the playing field, and coincidentally all three big-footed mascots made the podium. It was simply better than football could ever be.
Limbs flying and ears flopping, the race was a mess, but a mess that was impossible to tear your eyes away from. Everywhere you looked there was an owl on the floor or a pirate rugby-tackling a squirrel. It was pure carnage, pure passion, and despite a lack of fans – which is eerily reminiscent of current football matches – it was the perfect distillation of why people love football.
Football is, at its heart, weird. Millions of people let their Monday mood be dictated by how well (or how poorly) 11 men kicked a ball the previous weekend. When the Euros or World Cup come around fans gather in pubs across the world, united by the feeling of watching the right net bulge. I must have hugged at least 20 people in my vicinity when Kieran Trippier scored that free-kick in 2018, despite the fact I’d never met them before and never would again.
Mascots embody that absurd sense of unity that is football, as every fan will defend their badger, bird, or boiler until their dying breath. To be honest, these freakish creations are the best parts of a game currently marred by VAR and limping fanless through a pandemic.
— Mighty Red (@MightyRed_LFC) July 15, 2020
Monetising mascots seems like a callous thing to do, as they are one of the few aspects of football that remain untouched by the corrupting influence of billionaires in today’s game. Okay, maybe the boiler is an advert, but it’s the exception that proves the rule. But if monetising our freakish friends is what needs to be done in order to get them into FIFA, then it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
If EA needs an incentive to introduce mascots to FIFA, it can make them a tradeable item in Ultimate Team like club badges or kits. You’ll be able to buy your favourite (or the most despicable) to supplement your team, giving the fans what they want and further stimulating the FUT economy. It’d be cool if EA implemented a way to create your own mascot, or customise its legs, bodies, and heads to create a perfect monster, Frankenstein’s mascot.
FIFA 21 has already shown the direction EA wants to go when it comes to cosmetics – your stadium can be decked out with everything from Tifos of squirrels, neon pink pitch markings, and confetti cannons – mascots would only add to this personalised experience.
Just imagine a boiler with a duck’s head joining in with the Macarena or Partick Thistle’s kilted monstrosity clad in FaZe Clan colours. It would be carnage. It would be football.