It’s a scene that takes place before soccer games all around the world every week.
As the soccer players line up ready to walk onto the field they take the hand of a smiling and excited child next to them and walk out with them hand in hand.
For many kids this may be the highlight of their year, being able to walk out onto the soccer field in front of thousands of people with their soccer heroes. But many thousands of people see this happening before every game and don’t even know why this takes place.
In this article, I aim to explain everything you need to know about this pre-game tradition.
So, why does this happen?
There are 4 reasons.
Soccer players walk out onto the field holding hands with a child:
- To give children a chance to fulfill their dreams
- To create an opportunity for the soccer club to make some money
- To promote a campaign
- To promote the idea of soccer being a “family-friendly” game
These children, also known as “player escorts” or “mascots”, have not always been a feature of soccer games and it’s actually only a relatively modern custom.
As you read on we’ll have a look at these 4 reasons in more detail and find out why this custom started.
When did it start?
If you’re like me you may have seen many soccer games where the players from both teams walk out onto the field hand in hand with children of a variety of ages.
However, if you’re also like me you may never have given this tradition much thought until now and may not have really known why it happens or how and when it started.
This is why I decided it was time to find out the reasons behind it and share it with you all.
The practice of sending children out with the players first took place from time to time throughout the 1990s. At some of the more important games one child, or player escort, would accompany a team out at the beginning of the game.
From the year 2000 onwards this custom started happening much more regularly.
The 2000 Euro Championships was one of the first major soccer tournaments where children were seen walking out with the players. But it was the 2002 FIFA World Cup where it really became popular.
This was mainly down to the partnership of FIFA and the Unicef “Say Yes for Children” campaign working together.
At this tournament, children were intentionally promoted at events and games. One of the most prominent ways this happened was by pairing up each player with a child as they walked out onto the soccer field.
Since this tournament, it has become commonplace around the world for children to walk out with the players.
The 4 reasons explained
In the first section of this article, I mentioned that there were four reasons why this happens.
Ultimately soccer players walk out with a child because their club requires them to. It is in the interest of the soccer club to do this as it has potential benefits for both the child and the reputation of the club.
Let’s look at those reasons in more detail now.
1. To give children a chance to fulfill their dreams
Soccer is a game that is loved by children throughout the world. They love to play it, love to talk about it, and love to watch it.
So many children dream about one day walking out onto the soccer field and scoring the winning goal in a game.
Although they may not yet be old enough to go out and play in a professional game yet, the opportunity to walk out in front of thousands of fans, right beside one of their soccer heroes, is the chance that many kids would jump at.
This occasion may not just fulfill a dream at that moment, but give them a dream of being involved in soccer in the future.
One player who first walked out onto the soccer field before a game as a mascot was former England international, Wayne Rooney.
Before going on to become the highest ever goal scorer for the England national team as an adult he walked out with the players of Everton, the team he supported as a child, in a game against Liverpool in 1996.
It’s easy to imagine that that first taste of being on the soccer field before a professional game gave him the desire to push on and become a top-level player.
2. A chance for the soccer club to make some money
While many player escorts may find themselves in the position of walking out with the players due to winning a competition or being picked by a charity, etc. There is also the prospect of paying for the chance to walk out.
Most clubs have some sort of program where it’s possible to purchase the experience of being a player escort. For an example of this both MLS teams D.C. United and Chicago Fire offer these packages as part of their “on-field experiences”.
These programs can be extremely expensive. In England a few years ago it was reported that some clubs were charging almost $800 per child to be a player escort!
Remember this was taking place in the English Premier League which is often shown to be the richest soccer league in the world!
It also allows the club to make more money through sponsorship. You will often notice that each child that walks out has a logo of some brand on their top. Well, it’s safe to assume that the brand is probably paying a lot of money to have their logo displayed there.
An example of this was the McDonald’s Player Escort Program. For the World Cup in 2014 Mcdonalds was the official sponsor and chose 1,408 children to be player escorts throughout the tournament.
Although this was undoubtedly an incredible experience for all those kids, each of those kids walked out onto the soccer field with the Mcdonalds logo prominently displayed on their shirts for the millions of people watching around the world to see.
Find out if soccer has a salary cap in this article I wrote here.
3. To promote a campaign
Although the player escorts are often seen wearing logos of corporate brands there have also been many times when their shirts have promoted some sort of campaign as well.
As I mentioned above, the Unicef “Say Yes for Children” campaign was a great example of this.
Children not only took part in many areas of the 2002 soccer World Cup but also walked out onto the soccer field before every soccer game promoting this campaign on the clothes they were wearing.
4. To promote the idea of soccer being a “family-friendly” game
Having children front and center at the beginning of a soccer game is also used by a club to promote the idea that the club is family-friendly and for all ages.
Part of the push for this is because this wasn’t always the case. Throughout the history of soccer, there have been times when attending a soccer game was considered to be too dangerous for children as there were often outbreaks of violence amongst the fans.
Putting children on the field with the players was hoped to bring back “innocence” to the game.
It not only persuaded adult fans to think twice before doing anything dangerous but showed that children are an important part of the club.
Some clubs will also invite children from their local community to be player escorts. This is done with the aim of developing more of a “bond” with their community and promote the work the club is doing in the local area around them.
It’s not only kids that players walk out with
When I was researching the information for this article I was surprised to find that it isn’t always children that walk out with the players.
Occasionally when a soccer team has been supporting a special campaign or marking a significant day, they have invited parents, older members of the community, and even animals onto the soccer field with them.
In 2015, to mark Mother’s day, Netherlands team Ajax decided to use each player’s mom as the player escorts for the day.
It clearly inspired the team as they went on to win 3-0 that day.
In 2018 English team Preston North End asked 105-year-old Bernard Jones to be there player escort, or mascot, for the opening game of the season.
He was given a tour of the stadium before leading the team out as a reward for his decades of support for the team.
He also proved inspirational as the team went on to win the game.
It’s not just people who walk out with the players. In 2015 Brazilian team Sao Paulo decided to walk onto the field with 11 dogs by their side.
They decided to do this to support the city-wide initiative that was taking place to encourage more people to adopt stray dogs.
I don’t know how much it inspired people to adopt more dogs, but this time it didn’t inspire the team to win as the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
As we’ve seen throughout this article, the tradition of children(or adults and dogs!) walking out with the players is not just down to one reason.
On one hand, it can be about giving a child an opportunity to fulfill their dreams and on the other hand it can be about just about the soccer club making money.
Either way, it can be a great and enjoyable day for the kids and benefits the club at the same time. Because of this, it is likely this will continue for many years to come.
*If you’ve enjoyed this post, please check out the next one – Where and When can a Soccer Goalie use their hands?*
*Or check out the previous post – 50 Best Soccer jokes you will Read Today!*
And if you want to get fit in just 30-days by following the same training as professional soccer players then check out my 30-day Soccer Fitness Guide here.
Photo Credit for Header Image: @Richard Matthews / Flickr.com