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Mascot's tail of two halves
Football bosses at a 122-year-old club have unveiled a new mascot. But how will Darlo Dog be welcomed by the fans? Reporter Olivia Richwald went "undercover".
Football mascots have an illustrious history in the North-East - one even went on to become mayor.
I don't have the Hartlepool monkey's political aspirations, but donning a furry costume and parading around as a cuddly character has always been an ambition.
Darlington FC already has a mascot - Mr Q, a flat-looking cartoon man with a very big hat. But club bosses decided he needed a new best friend - and Darlo Dog, a Dalmatian, made his debut at the beginning of the year.
On a chilly Tuesday night, I arrive at the stadium half an hour before kick-off - for some obedience training.
Nervous, I strap on Darlo Dog's hefty paunch and crawl into his spotty skin.
The outfit is large and the acres of extra costume give me the swagger of a toddler who's filled his nappy.
Kevin Stonehouse, football in the community officer, said: "It is quite a difficult and demanding job and you need a good personality.
"Just go around waving and getting the crowd worked up. Mr Q will look after you."
As if on cue, Mr Q walks in with a splash of freckles and a cheeky grin wider than the pitch itself.
Fifteen-year-old Daniel Wright, a Beaumont Hill Special School pupil, has played Mr Q for almost a year. He has behavioural problems - but the on-pitch responsibility has transformed him.
Mr Stonehouse says: "Daniel is a natural. We need somebody who is enthusiastic and Darlo mad."
I pull on the dog's cavernous head and we walk out of the tunnel.
Unfortunately, Darlo Dog's puppy dog eyes are more widely spaced than mine and covered in a furry gauze - so I can only see faint outlines - and can't tell which of the players slaps me on the bum as we walk past.
Daniel waves at the fans as we head towards the goal. I banish my inhibitions and start shaking children's hands and warming up with the ball boys.
Within ten minutes, it is sizzling hot being swaddled in the dog's thick fur, but the only clue to the temperature outside is my breath, which collects in the dog's head, in front of my eyes.
Behind the home goal, Daniel and I try to get the crowd cheering - but some of the comments drifting through the padding aren't very nice.
A group of men are singing "Who let the dogs out" and "There's only one Darlo mascot", which I try not to take personally. Others yell at me to get out of the way.
We walk around the pitch and, at the family stand, dozens of children pull my tail and pat my head. A boy takes my picture.
"This is absolutely class, I love entertaining the kids," Daniel says, before a grumpy steward taps my shoulder and banishes us from the stand, saying the kids are getting worked up and it is dangerous.
Tail between the legs, I waddle away.
We wait for a goal but, after 90 minutes, the only thing to hit the back of the net is me, as I trip over a ball boy.
* The club is looking for someone to play Darlo Dog permanently. Anyone who is interested in signing up can contact Mr Stonehouse on (01325) 387019.