Hello and welcome to Pinky’s diary and my final diary of the season! After a long, hard few months of preparation, the days had ticked down to August 25th – Finals Day! After appearing at Hampshire in 2010 and Edgbaston last year, this time I had to get my jabs and cross the border as county cricket’s showpiece day was taking place at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff – and of course that meant county cricket’s showpiece event – the annual Mascot Derby!
While I had performed OK at my previous Finals Days, I was determined to go a few better and take home some silverware this time, so since the end of the group stages of the FL t20 competition, I’ve been locked into a boot-camp just so I could be at my physical and mental peak for the big day. Along the way I’ve had a bit of help from a few friends – and a few who are no longer friends – who’ve driven me into the ground in my months of training. I was lucky enough to call up one of my good friends, and one of Middlesex’s sons, who took time out of his busy summer to help out.
While I was running around Bushy Park in Teddington (one of my favourite runs in Middlesex), a local athlete ran up to me and asked for my help with his training – apparently he had a couple of big races coming up. I was glad to help out, and he promised to do an ‘M’ for Middlesex sign in my honour if he won. I wonder how he did?!
So anyway, after all of the preparation, I finally paid my money for the Severn Bridge and arrived at the SWALEC Stadium. It was my first time in Cardiff, and it was nice to get there and have a good look around. Luckily the sun was out, and I was able to take my seat and say hello to all of the other mascots and watch the first semi-final, between Yorkshire Carnegie and Sussex Sharks.
It was good to catch-up with all of my old pals, most of whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s race, and it was clear to see just how seriously all of them were taking this race! Carnegie’s Max Mynah had been part of the Republic of Yorkshire’s official Olympic training camp, and was determined to add another golden postbox to the county. Our race was due to take place during the break between the first semi and the second one, and while we were enjoying the fours and sixes of Jonny Bairstow’s excellent innings, the tension was growing before we were called to our dressing room to get ready.
As part of the entertainment for the crowd, comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner was filming videos that were being shown throughout the day on the big screen, and he came into our dressing room before the race to profile us racers. It was great to meet him, and he freaked me out with an uncanny impression of Derbyshire’s Freddie the Falcon!
After getting our running spikes on, stretching and psyching up, we were led out around the pitch to meet and greet some fans, where we posed for a lot of pictures! About 200 rowdy Yorkshire fans later, it was finally time to go, and we were finally able to set foot on the SWALEC pitch. This year there were 15 of us, all in varying shapes, sizes and species, but all with one goal – taking home the prestigious Mascot Derby Trophy.
Our course was simple – starting off with a clamber through the ball-pit, before a bounce over the giant wicket slide, leading to a loop of the inflatable ball, then under the scramble net before a final leap over a giant bat and a dash for the line. Simple enough? Not really! All in all it’s a complete lap of the outfield, which is a long way, especially with big feet and heavy fur! But I’d been in training and I was confident – this was my time!
As always, the man in charge was David “Bumble” Lloyd (along with help from the man of many voices, Rory Bremner), and he got us off and underway as we all raced for the lottery of the ball pool. The ball pool can make or break a mascot race – one slip can see you getting trampled by a flurry of fur and feathers – and unfortunately I fell victim to the treacherous balls and lost my footing, only to see the other mascots bounce past me! Oh no!
After hopping out of the ball pool towards the back of the field, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. And while I had overtaken a couple of my rivals over the slide and around the ball, I was surprised to see that somehow I’d managed to catch up with the frontrunners at the army-assault course style net. How had that happened? Well, luckily enough for me, the first mascot to reach the net was Lanky the Giraffe from Lancashire, and his famously long neck had got stuck, creating a backlog of mascots who couldn’t get past! The delay had allowed me to get back into contention, but now I had to wait for everyone else to squeeze through.
When I did my first mascot derby back in 2010, I spoke to a few of the other mascots in order to get inside information and tips of how to compete in the race. One piece of advice, from experienced mascot Eddie the Eagle from Essex had always stuck in my mind: “The first rule of mascot racing is to try and bend the rules as much as you can and see if you can get away with it”. And as I was waiting at the back of the queue to get through the net, that piece of advice suddenly came to mind. (Note to kids – Pinky the Panther does not condone cheating). So while the other mascots struggled to get past Lanky and his big neck, I decided to follow Eddie’s advice, and ran round the side of the net.
Sadly, it became pretty obvious that my plan hadn’t really worked, and I didn’t “get away with it”, as Bumble loudly pointed out to the crowd, but it was worth a try! And while I milked my approach to the line as the pantomime villain to a chorus of boos from the crowd, I turned to see that the home mascot, Dewi the Dragon was sprinting towards me! I turned and tried to race for the line, but Dewi was already at full pelt, and overtook me just before crossing the line, seeing him home in first place and taking the prized trophy! I crossed in second place, but sadly after a steward’s inquiry I wasn’t allowed to take the silver medal as apparently I had “breached numerous rules and regulations”. While I was disappointed with their outcome, in the interest of fair play I decided not to appeal or kick up a fuss, as I didn’t want to take away from Dewi’s moment in front of his home fans.
After the race, and the celebrations of the winning mascots, we all changed out of our racing gear and said our farewells until next year. It’s always fun to catch up with the gang, and while we all are at each other’s throats during the race (often literally), there is a lot of mutual respect between all of us, and we always enjoy our few minutes on the big stage. I know for one that I can’t wait for next year, and I could tell that all of the others feel the same way!
Once we were done all that was left was to kick back and enjoy the cricket, and it was an exciting afternoon of T20 action as Hampshire defeated first Somerset, and then Yorkshire, as they took home their second title in three years, before I jumped back into the Pinkymobile and over the Severn Bridge and back home to Lord’s, where I’m now getting ready for my winter hibernation.
So while I couldn’t quite take home the trophy, I’d like to thank all of the Middlesex fans for their support, as well as Jarhead for helping me out with my fitness work ahead of the big day. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get the win this time, but I’m looking forward to having another crack and hopefully lifting the trophy at next year’s Finals Day, and hopefully I’ll be joined by the Middlesex team too! As winter now draws in I’ll be wrapped up warm as I hibernate, but I’m looking forward to my first outing of the 2013 season at the first home T20 game already and hopefully I’ll see you there too!
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