News broke yesterday – all but flooring Twitter in the process – that illustrator and Turner-Prize winning artist David Shrigley had designed (though some might say conjured up) a new mascot for his beloved Partick Thistle FC. And like almost everything Shrigley does, it certainly stirred debate…
As part of a six-figure sponsorship deal with Kingsford Capital Management, a US based investment firm which will see their logo (also by the hands of Shrigley) slapped on the chests of the Jags’ players, the Scottish Premiership club have introduced new mascot – Kingsley.
Yep. Terrifying isn’t it. A fully-posable, complete-with-arms-and-legs logo which will, presumably, horrify – sorry – entertain the match day crowds at Firhill for the seasons ahead.
And as Kingsley’s been described as looking like he’s been “summoned into the mortal realm through the fiery gates of the underworld” and in typical Glaswegian humour “If Begbie from Trainspotting was a mascot”, it’s pretty safe to say that a lot of folk aren’t won over on first sight of the yella-fella. But although I think Kingsley’s cataclysmically crap, that’s exactly why I like him.
British football is full of idiosyncrasies and permanent peculiarities, the seemingly illogically logical manifestations of meaning, none more visually embodied than the mascot. These oddball characters are there to cheer us and jeer us, they’re proud symbols of their club and help in their communities, especially the younger supporters.
And over the past glorious century we’ve had almost every kind of mascot, from deranged, dressed-up fans through actual animals, birds, beasts, aliens, and just generally made-up shit.
From artist Jeremy Deller’s Procession at the 2009 Manchester International Festival. Photo: Tim Sinclair
1920s Millwall paraded some poor chap on all fours with a tatty rug over his head (Zampa the Lion, naturally, included in this nice gallery of historic mascots on The Guardian site); Everton used to let the local sweet-shop’s daughter loose at Goodison, wielding toffees into the crowd (a tradition gloriously continued today… as well as a Chang beer elephant); Arsenal currently have a distant cousin of Barney the Dinosaur with a penchant for footy (and cross-dressing if that eye-hole-cum-choker is to be believed); even Fulham used to let a seemingly orgasmic computer roam their pitch. So Kingsley, at least in a visual sense, is right at home.
But one thing missing from yesterday’s news is a huge part of any mascot: its personality. What mascots get up to on match days has gone down in football folklore; Swansea’s Cyril the Swan has been repeatedly charged and banned from touchlines, even running for the England job before Sven pipped him to the post in 2000.
Image via HUFC
Hartlepool’s H’Angus the Monkey (above – the club’s brave naming decision duly noted) ran for mayor of the town under the headline ‘Vote for H’Angus – He gives a Monkey’s’; even my own personal mascot memories peak with a bit of audacious attitude as Barnsley’s Toby Tyke (below), in a derby against Sheffield United, cocked his leg on the opposition’s goal post to cheers from the home crowd. But Shrigley’s work has never lacked personality, and with his unique brand of attitude, surely I’m jumping the gun.
Barnsley’s mascot, Toby Tyke
Also, check out Who Ate All the Pies’ somewhat poignant collection of mascots observing the minute’s silence here
But the mascot aside, there’s an interesting undercurrent which is perhaps more of a story, or maybe just even more terrifying. Shrigley said of his creation that there’s more to come and plans are afoot to involve other artists, arranging “some pretty exciting giveaways over the course of the season”.
With Kingsford’s Mike Wilkins sharing Shrigley’s artistic sentiment that art has the power to “communicate a shared spirit” and being “very much like sport in that regard”, it seems clear that theirs a real endeavour to introduce Thistle to a cultural audience, open the club up to creative opportunities.
The partnership and the mascot may simply be the start of a bigger creative engagement. Even the club described the deal as feeling a bit more “bohemian”. But it’s not the first time football and art have mixed, so let’s not forget that despite his fittingly crafted-crude appearance, Kingsley is a commercial collaboration which has seen one of football’s beloved historical symbols simply turned into a logo. Not as severe as crest fiddling I grant you, but on the same spectrum nonetheless.
Whichever side you support of that argument, Shrigley’s obviously a beloved Jags fan and God love him for bringing investment into his club through his means (and to Scottish Football, which could certainly use it).
But what really is Kingsley? An interesting initiative and possible new model for clubs to engage with new audiences? Or is simply a dreadful idea that’s yet another commercial exploitation of the game? Whichever one it turns out to be, when David Shrigley’s involved, it’s certainly worth seeing.
Craig Oldham is creative director of The Office of Craig Oldham.