Last weekend we welcomed two very special mascots to MEMS Priestfield Stadium to join us for the Peterborough game.
Thanks to the work of the Free Kicks Foundation, we were able to offer two local children the opportunity to become mascots for the day against Peterborough on Saturday. The Free Kicks Foundation are a charity who provide football-related activities for ill, bereaved or disadvantaged children, to give them a day to remember with their favourite football club.
Josh from Bradfields Academy, Chatham, and Koko from Abbey Court School in Rochester were nominated for the experience by their schools, and joined us on match day with their families for the full mascot experience, including a tour and a chance to meet the team. We were also joined on the day by Sam Downing and Steve Thorpe, who run the Free Kicks Foundation.
First stop on the tour was the first-team changing room, where Josh and Koko got to meet the Gills team, and get autographs and photos with some of their favourite players. Josh particularly enjoyed meeting his favourite player, Stuart Nelson, and getting a picture with his namesake Josh Wright.
Josh meets his namesake
After the changing room, our visitors took a trip to match control, and got a birds-eye-view of the pitch from the executive seats. Once they’d toured the stadium, the mascots then got the chance to have a kick-about on the pitch, and to meet another special mascot – Tommy T himself!
Six-year old Koko, who is non-communicative, shared a very special moment with Tommy T, which Sam and Steve agreed was one of the best Free Kicks moments ever.
Writing on Facebook after the game, Sam said: “We’ve been doing Free Kicks for ten years now and met hundreds of amazing children, but today I was reduced to tears for the first time. Koko’s condition means he is unable to communicate verbally and has difficulty walking on his own. At Gillingham FC today he met Tommy T, the club mascot, and it was one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. The guy inside the horse came over to say hello, then knelt down and just held his hand. Koko was looking at him and stroking his nose, and they just stayed like that for ages.
“It was just the most beautiful moment; everyone around us was spellbound and full credit to Tommy T for his sensitivity and for making Koko’s day (and mine!)”
After meeting Tommy, the mascots then proudly led out the Gills, with Koko being carried by Captain Max Ehmer, and Josh walking alongside Bradley Dack, before they both sat down with their families to enjoy the game.
Thank you again to the Free Kicks Foundation for offering this mascot package, and to Bradfields Academy and Abbey Court School for nominating the boys for the special opportunity. We hope Josh and Koko enjoyed their day!
To find out more about the Free Kicks Foundation, visit www.freekicksfoundation.org, or find them on Twitter @FreeKicks. You can also help to support the fantastic work they do by donating online at www.justgiving.com/freekicks.
The mascots’ visit also coincided with the Gills’ Match of Action for Level Playing Field, celebrating the ‘Game Changers’ who make a difference for disabled football fans, and to promote a message of access and inclusion for all. Find out more here.