Bradford City’s famous City Gent mascot says he has been forced to quit by the club because he is no longer fat enough for the role after losing seven stones through illness.
Life-long Bantams’ fan Lenny Berry, who has played the bowler hat-wearing mascot for almost 20 years, refused an offer of wearing a ‘Sumo-style’ suit and costume head to continue as the character after bosses at the League One club said his appearance no longer matched the ‘original concept’.
In a statement, City confirmed the main reason for asking Mr Berry to wear a padded costume was because his ‘physical appearance’ had changed from the original City Gent, former chairman the late Stafford Heginbotham.
But the 59-year-old says he now looks different because he lost weight for health reasons after being diagnosed with diabetes in 2006.
Last night, he said: “I’m am absolutely gutted. I am a grown man and this is something I have cried over.
“I’ve been through the fire. I’ve been through everything down there. When they did Save Our City I had my head shaved in the middle of the pitch and got 12-15 mascots to take part in a charity match.
“I don’t want the club getting hurt, I love the club. If you cut me open I’d be claret and amber.
“It’s not the team and it’s not the club, but I am disappointed with the way it’s been dealt with.”
Mr Berry, who was asked to play the City Gent by former City chairman Geoffrey Richmond while he was working in the players’ bar in 1994, said he received a letter from the club about his future in the role in mid-July.
But despite being told one of the reasons he would have to wear a costume was his appearance, he claims no one at City had said anything about his weight loss.
“In a meeting I asked why it wasn’t brought up six years ago when I first lost the weight,” he said. “They said they knew about my health issues.
“Obviously I’ve lost a lot of weight. I used to be 17 and a half stones, whereas I’m now around ten and a half. I lost it in about 18 months after I found out I had diabetes.
“I used to have supporters chant things at me, like ‘who ate all the pies’. I used to get them going and then grab my belly. I play the part of the mascot though, through my face and my eyes. I’ve always had a good rapport with fans”
Mr Berry, of Sowerby Bridge, who has been a Bantams’ fan since the age of seven and started working at the club selling cushions aged 14, said he had considered carrying on in the role and wearing a costume – but he had been told he would no longer be able to take part in charity events or give young mascots match-day tours if he did.
The textiles worker had been paid for being a mascot, but said he did not make any money from it.
He said: “Over the years I’ve done a lot of fundraising for the Bradford Burns Unit as well as cancer charities. I’ve taken part in mascot races and other events.
“I will still be at Bradford City as a season-ticket holder, but it is really sad.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by everyone’s support on Facebook and Twitter.”
Club director Roger Owen said the issue of club mascots had been discussed during a board meeting at the end of last season and it had agreed “action needed to be taken” over the City Gent.
“In the case of The City Gent, the main issue was his physical appearance, which was much changed from the original concept of the then-chairman, the late Stafford Heginbotham, who styled the City Gent on himself.
“We agreed that action needed to be taken. It was also agreed that Lenny be formally contacted, by letter, to put our various points to him and to suggest that the club obtain a Sumo-type suit with character head piece to represent the Gent.
“The Football League had told us at the time of the League Two Play-Off final that only animal or human mascots were now appropriate if they wore an anonymous headset.
“Lenny was given a deadline to respond, which was extended and then not complied with by our meeting on Friday...Lenny advised me that he would cease his role as City Gent with immediate effect.
“The board has now decided that as we are adequately covered by Billy Bantam, the Bantams being our real nickname, and that the City Gent name lives on in the excellent club fanzine produced by Mike Harrison, we will not replace The City Gent as a mascot.”