“I wish to be a mascot for Leeds United FC”
13 years old, Pontefract
When Elliot’s mum, Sophie, was taking his photo one day she noticed his face looked a bit swollen on one side. She thought they’d better get it checked out as it seemed to be getting bigger. His family was shocked when he was diagnosed with a soft tissue cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. An ultrasound and MRI scan had shown that he had a tumour and it was growing. This was June 2018.
In August that year, he started a course of intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Then in October, he travelled from his home in Pontefract, Yorkshire to Jacksonville in America to undergo photon beam therapy for three months. This was the best option for him because the tumour is in his head and brain, so surgery isn’t possible.
After completing a course of maintenance therapy, Elliot now 13, has MRI scans every three months to check that the residual tumour is still stable.
While he was being treated at Leeds General Infirmary, a CLIC Sargent social worker told him about Make-A-Wish and Elliot started thinking about what he might like to do.
"When we travelled home from hospital, we would pass Elland Road and Elliot used to say 'I hope I get to go there again one day’."
Volunteers Annette and Rachel, from Make-A-Wish, visited Elliot at home in 2019 and he showed them a mood board of all his favourite things. But his ultimate wish was to be a football mascot at his beloved Leeds United.
It’s a popular request so there was a bit of a wait. Meanwhile, Elliot was given a boost when the team sent him a ‘get well’ card signed by boss Marcelo Bielsa and all the players. It put a huge smile on his face. Then the coronavirus pandemic began, and Elliot – and hundreds of other children – had his wish put on hold.
But in November 2020, his Wishgranter Amy contacted his family to say that the club had proposed organising a virtual mascot experience. This way Elliot could enjoy heading out onto the pitch through the technological wonders of a tablet and a video call. Elliot loved the idea, and arrangements were made for the match against Arsenal that weekend.
On Saturday 21st November 2020, Elliot and his sister Verity put on their Leeds shirts to wait for a Zoom call on their laptop. One of the support staff called from an iPad he was carrying and then he passed it around the team who all said hello while waiting in the tunnel. Luke Ayling smiled into the screen, Elliot's favourite player Kalvin Phillips waved at him and Illan Meslier also said hello.
Elliot was then ‘carried’ onto the pitch by team captain Liam Cooper, who was simultaneously being filmed by a crew on the pitch.
Liam said: “We’re going to go out in a minute so you’re going to be as if you’re me now” and he focused the iPad’s camera outwards so Elliot could watch. It was as if he himself was captain, while Liam walked up to the centre line and started talking to the referee and linesmen.
They got to experience the coin toss and all the images were beamed to fans via the big screens at the start of the game. What’s more, the whole match was broadcast on Sky Sports and featured on Match of the Day 2, which was another thrill.
The only downside was that the match finished as a draw, and Elliot thought Leeds deserved three points.
Later, Elliot was sent a digital certificate to confirm that he had been a mascot – the first in Leeds United’s history! This has now set a precedent for the way other footballing wishes could be granted, despite lockdown.
How Elliot's wish helped
Elliot’s mum, Sophie, said afterwards: “Leeds were great and sent him a goody bag before the match, then they sent him some personal video messages when they were in the hotel the night before, so he felt very, very special indeed. It was the first virtual mascot wish they've granted so we were all nervous about the technology working but it was great.
“He was a bit nervous at first, but he absolutely loved it. We knew Sky Sports was covering the match and that the club had had to get permission from the Premiere League for this to happen, but we didn’t think they’d make such a big thing of it."
"I wish you could have seen him afterwards because when the call ended, he was just running round the room for ages, saying 'oh my God, oh my God' All the excitement just bubbled up. He thought it was absolutely brilliant. It surpassed his expectations."
Sophie said: “A massive thank you to Leeds and Make-A-Wish. This is something that Elliot will be able to look back on and it will always bring a smile to his face.”
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