Last Monday morning it was revealed that a man had lost his job. Within an hour it was trending on Twitter across the UK. Three days later the sacking was reported on at length in the New York Times.
Entirely in keeping with the surreal nature of 2020, this was not a disgraced MP or a high-profile sports person whose termination of employment was making waves around the globe. It was a club mascot that takes the form of a big green dinosaur.
Gunnersaurus isn’t just any mascot of course. His familiarity extends across football and only last year ‘he’ was voted the best mascot by a large online account. This partly explains why when Arsenal gave him the boot after 27 years of service there was so much uproar on social media, both sincere and humorous in tone. As for the New York Times article, that can be explained by what happened next.
When Mesut Ozil, the Gunners’ peripheral and divisive superstar, publicly offered to pay the wages of his club’s matchday mascot from his own stuffed pocket this curio of a news story made it all the way to the front pages. Inevitably so. Here was a big furry dinosaur being laid off by a Premier League club only for one of its players to step in and save the day. In news circles, this is known as a home run. Online meanwhile Twitter and Facebook blew up, with a thousand variations of a joke about this being the best assist Ozil has made for quite some time.
I was so sad that Jerry Quy aka our famous & loyal mascot @Gunnersaurus and integral part of our club was being made redundant after 27 years. As such, I’m offering to reimburse @Arsenal with the full salary of our big green guy as long as I will be an Arsenal player… pic.twitter.com/IfWN38x62z
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) October 6, 2020
It is wholly unsurprising that such a weird and wonderful development should be greeted with an avalanche of bantz. Just as it’s wholly unsurprising that such a weird and wonderful development should occur in a year that has spectacularly lost the plot. Yet when you dig a little deeper and look behind the furry costume, things get a little unsettling. Creepy even.
The man behind the costume is called Jerry Quy. He is a lovely guy by all accounts, a guy so devoted to his job and to Arsenal football club that he once missed his brother’s wedding because it clashed with a home game and a commitment to don the outfit and entertain the crowd. Back in August Jerry was informed – along with 54 other employees of the club – that he was to be made redundant due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It is fair to assume his sacking was only made official this week because it was hoped fans would return to grounds by October but sadly that has not been possible.
For Arsenal to dump 55 of their staff to fend for themselves in the harsh environs of a recession was met with criticism at the time and rightly so. It was a despicable act, heartless and entirely avoidable. It is estimated that the club will save £2m annually from doing this but soon after they thought nothing of signing the 32-year-old Willian on wages of £220,000 a week and it is immensely pertinent too that Arsenal’s owner Stan Kroenke is reported to be worth £6.3 billion.
Keeping 55 club employees in their jobs for the expected duration of the Covid crisis would amount to 0.003% of his vast fortune. The ‘financial impact’ of the coronavirus pandemic to the American incidentally has seen his wealth actually increase by £305m (from March to August). On the same day, Quy’s redundancy was made public Arsenal signed Thomas Partey for £45m.
Arsenal have reportedly paid the £45M release clause for Thomas Partey after finally scraping together the funds.
Gunnersaurus must have been on some wages.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 5, 2020
So where did our criticism of Arsenal’s deplorable decision get us? Precisely nowhere, that’s where. The club went ahead and made their mass redundancies regardless and this illustrates the Premier League’s bizarre relationship with PR that has them desperately clamouring for positive PR at every opportunity – indeed to such an extent they are prepared to splash out obscene amounts of cash in order to secure it – but not give a single, solitary fig about negative PR.
So Gooners are unhappy, what of it? That appeared to be Arsenal’s stance, still absolutely certain that shirts would be flogged and season tickets would be procured in the future. As for rival supporters they snipe at the best of times anyway.
Ultimately Arsenal did what they did because they could, and because they exist within a moral vacuum.
But what of us? When we discovered that 55 individuals from Arsenal’s commercial and administration departments would be scrambling to meet their mortgage repayments we kicked up a bit of a fuss but not much, not really, until we found out that one of them wore an amusing costume on matchdays. Then 11,000 comments were made in the first two hours alone. Then we got mad.
Is it only me who finds this a bit creepy? It is reminiscent of the Hunger Games or the Running Man or whatever dystopian futuristic film you care to mention. He should be spared. He makes us laugh.
Now, of course, I will be delighted if Jerry Quy is indeed ‘spared’ and retains his job but what this week has once again highlighted is that for all of our futile gripes we are actually complicit in going along with the grand delusion that football is ethereal. It is exempt from normal standards and practices. It can do as it likes.
Which is a great shame because we are powerful when roused. We can make a real difference. And though it’s commendable that our collective ire helped save a man’s livelihood it would be infinitely better if we did this for the many and did this often. Not just for mascots who make us giggle.