I, along with Becky Tallentire, have told the story of John Murray on ToffeeWeb ["The Murray Fanmily – Mint Toffees" and "Everton's First Boy Mascot"]. This fanatical young Everton supporter had the dream role of being the Toffees' (unofficial) boy mascot during the glorious 1962-63 season. John stood down not long afterwards. This is the story of the boy who succeeded him.
On 2 December 1963, Everton were taking on Glasgow Rangers in the home leg of the unofficial British Club Championship final. Prior to kick-off, Bernard Gamble was given a firm fatherly ‘nudge’ to leap over the wall onto the perimeter track and join his heroes.
Four decades later, he recalled: "My dad [Jimmy] decided that I should be a mascot, and he threw me on, saying: 'Get down to the tunnel. If you get thrown off, you get thrown off.'" So, the 5-year-old waited near the tunnel and joined the players as they headed onto the pitch. No-one batted an eyelid. In Bernard’s words: "They accepted me".
It became a familiar routine for Bernard, of St Arnaud Street, L7, to take off his tracksuit top, revealing an Everton kit, as kick-off approached (his mum had sewn a Number 9 on the shirt in honour of Alex Young). Then he’d hop over the wall to meet the players as they entered the pitch.
"Once I’d done it a few times, that was it; they [the players] knew who I was then. I used to say Hello to every player, have a kick of the ball, toss-up – if the referee was flush, I used to get the sixpence – and get off back to my dad to watch the match."
The officially-sanctioned club mascot was Sheila Radcliffe, a Toffee Lady in ‘Mother Noblett’ attire. This was a role performed by a young woman selected since the early 1950s by Everton Supporters’ Federation.
Sheila Radcliffe, the Toffee Lady
Bernard and Roy Vernon leading Everton out at Roker Park in 1964
Bernard (and sometimes Sheila) also went on the road with the Blues – joining Roy Vernon and, later, Brian Labone as they led the team out (Bernard described them as being ‘very friendly’). Not all clubs welcomed this practice; Elland Road and the Victoria Ground being two stadiums where the mascot had to remain on the terraces.
Bernard’s classmate at St Anne’s Roman Catholic School on Overbury Street, Leslie McCann, was the Liverpool mascot at this time. He had succeeded David Goodman, who had fulfilled those duties at Anfield for nearly a decade. The pair would pose for the local press, in their kits, giving each other a ‘hard stare’.
Unsurprisingly a memory cherished by Bernard was the 4-0 thrashing of the Reds at Anfield in 1964 – especially as he had a privileged vantage point in the dugout: "Harry Catterick said, 'Come and sit here' - so I did! I was screaming my head off. Because you were so low – my face as at floor level – you couldn’t see the players’ feet on the far side of the pitch."
In January 1965, a story appeared in the local press, describing how Bernard had a nightmare in his sleep. He dreamt that his beloved Blues would be beaten by Leeds United in a forthcoming cup tie, due to an own-goal The story went that the young Evertonian woke up in tears and promptly penned a letter to Brian Labone, to warn him of the premonition.
Years later, Bernard would reveal that this was "fake news": "They [a press agency] needed to fill a slot and came to my dad’s grocery shop in Chatsworth Street. My dad said, 'What’s in it for me?' and the reporter said, 'We’ll give him a brand-new pair of boots.' I’m still waiting for the boots!"
Bernard with Brian Labone in 1965
The 1966 season culminated in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. The FA refused permission for both Bernard and Sheila to be allowed on the pitch for the coin toss – so they lent their support, fully decked out, from the terraces (Everton had arranged tickets for them).
Aware of Bernard’s disappointment at not treading on the famous Wembley turf, Brian Labone ensured that he had a day to remember at the team’s Liverpool homecoming, the following day. The two mascots were in an open-top car in the triumphant cavalcade as it wound its way from Allerton Station to St George’s Hall via Childwall, West Derby, Walton, and Scotland Road. Their car travelled directly behind the team’s and directors’ coaches until separated from them by gate-crashing cyclists and motorcyclists, during the slow journey in front of an estimated 250,000 cheering Merseysiders.
The two mascots joined the players and officials on the steps of St George’s Hall. Bernard was photographed in his kit, next to the city’s mayor as he addressed the crowd, with the manager and squad watching on. He was also caught on camera being egged on by Brian Harris as, sporting a blue and white striped boater, he quaffed champagne from the famous trophy.
At the subsequent reception in the hall, he saw Dixie Dean and sat at the same table as Bessie Braddock MP until his dad came to collect him, a couple of hours later. Sipping orange juice, he told the press reporters: "Brian sorted everything out. Now all I want to do is play for Everton when I am old enough."
Bernard on the steps of St George's Hall at the 1966 FA Cup-winners homecoming
After this zenith came an all-time low. The front page of the Liverpool Echo on 13 October 1966 showed a dejected Bernard, football boots at his elbow, reading a letter from Everton advising him that he would no longer be a club fixture. An explanation for this turn of events was given to the Echo by Everton’s Secretary, Bill Dickinson:
"This arises from a request from the Supporters Club that the Toffee Lady should be the only mascot. There is nothing personal in it – the boy is a nice lad and could not be better behaved. It is a matter of principle. The board gave the Supporters' Club request full consideration before they made their decision."
George Bailey, Chairman of the Supporters’ Federation Club, explained further: "We are the only supporters' club in the country with a girl mascot who is officially recognised. Naturally we guard this distinction carefully. It is not a personal vendetta against the boy. After Everton won the Cup there was doubt in many people’s minds as to who was the official mascot. This has rather brought the matter to a head."
Bernard reading the letter from Everton, advising him that he could no longer be an unofficial club mascot
Bernard confessed that his dad took it harder than he did. Jimmy Gamble told the Echo:
“My son could not have had kinder treatment from the club or players. They got him tickets for the Cup Final and could not have done more to help him.
“The trouble, I think, is jealousy. There have been boy mascots for 6 years at Everton now and it has taken the Supporters’ Club a long time to discover that their presence detracts from the effect of the Toffee Lady.
“My son is very disappointed, indeed. Fortunately, he was giving the job up at the end of this season because he's getting too tall to be a mascot. We always kitted him out in Everton colours at our own expense and he always paid to go into the ground.
“I don't suppose anyone has supported the team, home and away, as regularly as Bernard has these past three seasons. He's so upset today that I haven't had the heart to send him to school.”
Several letters were printed in local newspapers, advocating Bernard’s retention as a mascot. William Armstrong, from Camelford Road, Croxteth, put his view across in the Echo:
"Although I am a Liverpool supporter, I also follow Everton's play with interest. I must admit to feeling unhappy about the treatment of the boy. Surely it is a mistake on the part of the Supporters' Club to put forward such an idea? I can't believe anyone could do such a thing to a boy."
However, the club was not for turning and Bernard hung up his mascot kit 8 months earlier than he had anticipated.
The Supporters’ Federation-nominated Toffee Lady would be the sole Everton mascot until the mid-1990s when the club revised the arrangements. Instead of the Toffee Lady being a Supporters’ Club appointee, with a term of several seasons, a different girl for each match would be selected at random from the ranks of the junior supporters. A boy mascot would be selected in the same fashion.
And what happened to Benard? I am delighted to report that he got over the heartache and reflects: "I enjoyed it while it lasted". He never did get to play for the club – but he still follows the Blues, home and away, through thick and thin.
Everton match-day programme
Charle’s Buchan’s Football Monthly
Reader Comments (5)
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1 Posted 25/05/2022 at 19:42:43
Once again, thank you for another great article, it takes me back to when football was the working man's sport and fans, although they were biased, weren't as hateful as they are now.
2 Posted 26/05/2022 at 22:27:12
3 Posted 26/05/2022 at 23:33:37
In September 1968, I approached the club for a “Junior Everton Supporter's Club”. I was 12 and Everton was my life. It took endless letters before I was told to go to the Supporters Club to meet the head man after a home game.
I saw this fellow (can't remember his name… could it have been George???) and I outlined some (12 years old) ideas to him but was quickly dismissed.
I remember him saying something like “We had kids in here some years back and they were a bloody nuisance running around all over the place.” I explained my idea was not for some young Evertonians Youth Club but his mind was set. I felt quite let down by his dismissive attitude.
Spin forward some years and the penny dropped regards embracing young supporters etc. I recall I said it was about young Everton fans who were passionate about the club but his attitude seemed to be that they don't contribute enough payments to club or supporters club so are not important.
Now we live in an era where young fans and family enclosures etc are the current fad… the full supporters of tomorrow. Looking back to 1968, it would have been quite a revolutionary thing of them to have embraced. But we all know how forward thinking this club has been…
4 Posted 26/05/2022 at 00:09:55
I agree with John Senior but then it makes me wonder about this proposed fans advisory board. I'll stop, let's keep this on track. There's another thread for that.
Wonderful story on the back of the tale of John Murray (Brian's brother). How great would it be if we took a ball boy (not the staged one for every player) and the Toffee Girl to away matches?
Sadly it probably wouldn't wash in the modern game. Even by the mid-80s, she was having to turn at roughly the 18-yard line towards the old Park End to avoid the vile abuse from our loveable cousins. But why not now? If that's our choice of mascot do it.
Thank you as always. I didn't mean to distract. Wonderful read.
5 Posted 27/05/2022 at 00:19:54
So, yes the Supporters Club behaved badly and the green eyed monster was at play, but also at least he got the chance to do it for a good few years, and up close and central in a special era for the Club.
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