It’s a dog’s life for reporter WILL BAIN as he tries his hand at being Newport County’s trusty mascot, Spytty.
ON a freezing Tuesday night at Rodney Parade, I must be the warmest man in Newport.
As two men in dodgy suits give endless high-fives to complete strangers several thousand miles away I’mdoing the same.
I’mnot making a final tour of swing states before the US election closed though, I’mdressed in a boiling second Spytty the Dog outfit, Newport County AFC’s loyal mascot.
They say a dog is man’s best friend, and in County and Spytty’s case that sentiment couldn’t be truer.
The loyal canine has been at every club home game for more than a decade as County have strived to get back to the Football League after twice going into exile and three trips to the High Court after the club went bust in the late 80s.
His name is allegedly a play on the name of the famous character Spit the Dog from the TV show Tiswas, and of course alludes to Spytty Park, which was the club’s home until this season’s ground share with the Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC.
When I arrive at County’s offices, next door to Rodney Hall, I’m taken through to a back room where Spytty is getting ready for tonight’s Blue Square Premiership clash with Cambridge United.
Despite being a dog of few words Spytty is effervescently energetic.
With no dog food in sight, Spytty seems to exists off a balanced diet of multiple lollipops, and true to form he is chewing on one as I arrive.
The high sugar intake and hyperactivity are perhaps unsurprising traits for a character who spends every Saturday for nine months of the year running up and down a football pitch touchline like a maniac.
County general manager, Steve Dance, explains that for tonight’s clash there will be two Spyttys on the pitch as another suit and set of County kit is dragged into the room.
Since the Summer move to Rodney Parade County have been flying high this season, setting the early pace in the embryonic league table.
But of late the side have just stumbled a little.
Back-to-back defeats and no win in their last four league and cup games, including a humiliating FA Cup exit at the hands of lowly Yate Town has left the County faithful a little on edge. Still, if results go their way tonight, County can climb back to the top of the table and so to steal an Obamaism, Spytty is fired up and ready to go.
I’mgiven a walkthrough of how to get my furry suit on.
The ritual feels a little bit like a knight strapping on his armour ready to go into battle, I think that’s how Spytty sees it.
It is safe to say that Spytty’s matchday attire is slightly swankier than mine.
The fact is highlighted on leaving the office when the first thing a steward kindly says is “what the hell is that?!”
He goes on to contend that in his opinion I look more like a rabbit than a dog. The suit to me bears a rather worrying resemblance to that of the bear in the TV comedy show Bo Selecta, not, for anyone who has not seen the show, the most family friendly of creatures.
I’m given my final instructions by Spytty before we make the walk to ground.
“Have fun, hold on to your head when you go near the kids and if you hear a firework hit the ground.”
And with that we’re off.
And that in itself is a problem.
The dark black gauze in the mouthpiece of my costume is hard enough to see through in the light, but given the game is kicking off at 7.45pm, it is pitch black and nigh on impossible.
Spytty has hared off somewhere like a balloon which has had the end untied.
I’mtherefore left to fend for myself as I stumble towards the ground.
It’s amazing what a large furry animal costume will do for you though.
As a reporter and a man with ginger hair I’mused to being derided or at least avoided, but the world and his wife want to have their picture taken with Spytty 2, give him a hug, shake his hand, his name constantly being called out. It’s almost certainly like being in One Direction. Perhaps.
At the ground I am reunited to my relief with the real Spytty and we go through our pre-match obligations; a picture with the three young mascots, a few pictures with the fans at the side of the field and then we welcome Justin Edinburgh and his men.
The crowd is by no means the biggest of the season but the noise is still good as the team arrive.
We take up position at the terraced end of the ground County are attacking in the first-half. At first we spend a lot of time pratting around with the ball boys who’s squawks of “Spytt, Spytt mate, Spytty” are a constant sound track.
It’s quite a good laugh mind, but there are a lot of high-fives.
Then we’re into a slightly odd Chaplin-esque mime routine as the Hazell Terrace serenade us with a refrain of “Spytty’s got a girlfriend, Spytty’s got a girlfriend.”
Then a brace of early goals from Lee Minshull and Mike Flynn cause the crowd to explode.
Spytty’s off down the Hazell Terrace high-fiving (again) the front row. I follow him and as we turn to head back to our position he says, “no better feeling than that”. It’s a goalfest on the night, County eventually finding the net six times allowing me to run through a full repertoire of wild goal celebrations, including a David Beckham-esque knee slide I’m particularly proud of.
All that running, jumping sliding, goal-keeping at halftime with the County subs (where I pull off a blinding save getting a big paw to the ball to turn it round the post) and of course high-fiving is boiling work.
It is safe to say the suit is not made of the most breathable material.
I feel like I’ve gone 12 rounds with Joe Calzaghe, with the entire bout taking place in a Turkish bath.
It’s all over. County have crushed Cambridge 6-2 and the fans are chanting “we are top of the league,” to which we dance a happy jig.
A high-five handshake from County right-back David Pipe is a highlight as the players come off.
It’s a strange old existence.
Part pantomime, part superfan with the best view in the house, but Spytty loves it and I can see why.