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We can be heroes for just one day (David Bowie, 1977)

The Safeguarding Steward at a a certain south London football ground has been earning his keep again. Last week the visitors were a top side with a team packed with (football) household names. Before kick off, whilst the players were warming up, the mascots (whose parents may have paid a few hundred pounds for the privilege of their son or daughter leading the teams out) were having a bit of a kickabout with a team coach. Dressed in their team colours there are generally about 6 or 7 6-9 year olds, one of whom is normally from the away club.

The team managers don’t usually appear on the pitch before a game leaving the stretching and running exercises for others to organise, but on this occasion the visiting manager unexpectedly appeared pitchside and the visiting team mascot suddenly ran towards him. This particular mascot was physically much bigger than the others and his kit seemed a little tight, but he had glimpsed his hero and he clearly wanted to say hello. It’s not really clear what happened next but the consensus from those around me was that the mascot got the verbal brush off from the manager and he was left in tears. Step forward the Safeguarding Steward who, helpfully, was nearby to provide an arm of comfort and some distraction enabling the boy to rejoin the kickabout with the other mascots.

Meeting your hero can be daunting - how will they take the adulation and attention? How will they behave? What do you say to them that’s not going to sound like goobledegook? What’s the correct protocol? - But being let down or rejected by your hero can be a damaging experience especially if you have waited a long time, pinned your hopes on meeting them and, in this case probably paid a lot of money to do so.

No doubt for some young people in the 1960s, 70s and 80s meeting Jimmy Saville, who would visit or fix things for them, was a similar experience. An eager and lengthy buildup to a day beyond your wildest dreams quite possibly ruined forever by a hurt and a memory you can’t erase. The sheer incomprehension and disbelief that your hero, the person in whom you invested so much energy and attention, has let you down so badly.

Being a hero carries profound responsibilities, and abusing the role is doubly distressing for those who may have been hurt by their idol. This is not just about the sexually predatory behaviour of Saville and others – its also about ignoring, discarding, belittling, and avoiding. David Bowie sang that we can all be heroes, so if that is our gift, we just need to behave like one and be wise to how we come across.

When the teams were led out the visiting mascot looked as pleased as punch, you will be relieved to hear. No ill effects seemingly but such a shame his team had to win.

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