Last week, football made steps towards becoming more welcoming to the disabled community by making a Liverpool teenager’s dream a reality. Jack McLinden, 14, became the first remote mascot as he led Everton out onto the pitch via new technology last Monday.
Created by the Norwegian firm No Isolation, the AV1 robot has a camera with audio that sends video back to the “mascot’s” tablet. No Isolation created the robot to help children with restricted mobility battle loneliness, and partnered with the UK charity WellChild to make the experience possible for the teenager.
Even though the McLindens live just a few miles away from Goodison Park, Jack’s physical disabilities and constant need for an oxygen tank make it impossible for him to attend a match. Jack has been battling health problems since the age of three, and has a rare form of epilepsy with no speech and limited mobility. But with the AV1, Jack was able to get as close to his beloved team as any fan.
“It was really like he was there,” said mum Michelle McLinden. “He was just loving it, really loving it.”
From the locker rooms to the pitch, Jack received a full experience throughout the whole evening, getting to go behind the scenes like any other mascot. Everton Captain Phil Jagielka carried the robot while shaking hands with the other team before the match. And the fact that Everton managed a 1-0 win against Newcastle made the day all the more sweet
“‘Jags’ was really involving him and it must have been difficult for him just carrying this piece of plastic but he fully embraced it and was fantastic,” said McLinden. “The other players were great, even the Newcastle players, and they were all joking with him.”
Scott McLeod, Everton’s head of engagement, said he hopes Jack could be the first of many fans with disabilities to be a remote mascot or offered similar experiences.
“I know the players really enjoyed interacting with Jack through the robot and everybody here at the club would be keen to do it again,” said McLeod. “The feedback we have had from the family has been brilliant, with some really heart-warming comments coming through from football fans from all over the world.”