It’s safe to say that young football fan Riley Markland will never forget the day he attended his first match.
Before a 85,854 crowd and a worldwide TV audience of millions, the youngster from Heath and Reach got to walk onto the Wembley pitch with the Watford and Man City players at Saturday’s FA Cup Final.
The St Leonards’ Lower School pupil was one of just a handful of official mascots aged 6 to 11, which also included Elton John’s two sons.
The VIP experience, where he took the opportunity to bow to Prince William as the Royal was presented to the teams, was all down to lucky mum Hazel.
She’d earlier won a mascot competition run by FA Cup sponsors Emirates on their Facebook page where fans were asked to recall a favourite football memory.
Hazel, whose family are all keen Watford fans, had forgotten all about entering until she received a message of congratulations months later on May 8.
That meant a visit to Heath and Reach for former England and Man Utd defender Wes Brown who was roped in to break the news to Riley on May 14.
The film crew set up at the Marklands’ home while Riley was at school and, after rendezvousing with Wes at the Axe and Compass pub, came knocking once they knew he was back from his lessons.
Hazel said: “Riley opened the door and was in total surprise at this awesome news, he even had time to have a kick about in the garden with Wes. They were here filming for about an hour.”
On the Friday, Riley and his mum Hazel were treated to night in a posh London hotel prior to the mascot bus taking them to Wembley Stadium.
Once with the FA team, Riley and the other mascots went off behind the scenes to find their Emirates mascot kit and get ready for their important job of walking out with the players.
The mascots had a talk by Wes to prepare them and lots of high fives with players. They even sat in the players’ seats during the player warm-up.
Then came their big moment, lining up in the tunnel and taking the hands of the players, with Riley paired with Craig Cathcart.
Hazel said: “Riley was super proud walking out to fireworks and flames which he said were nice and warm! As Prince William passed greeting the players Riley bowed with his respect. As he came off the pitch he said it was ‘awesome!’.”
Riley was then delivered back to his mum and their seats in the Watford crowd to cheer on his team along with his dad, grandad and uncle in the stadium.
Despite the result [6-0 to Man City] Riley cheered and waved his yellow flag right until the end.