Taking to the pitch for a Champions League game is every young footballer’s dream and for Manchester United supporter Zach Penny from Ivy Mead, Londonderry, that came true.
Despite being a ‘Red’, Zach, a pupil at Drumahoe Primary School, joined other mascots at the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City’s crunch game against Celtic on December 6.
“Zach supports United and Barcelona but just loves football in general,” explained his Mum Wendy. “He plays up at Clooney Soccer School and watches football non stop.
“When he is watching it he always says at the start of games that he would love to be a mascot, then in a complete coincidence I saw a competition online through Mastercard applied and thought nothing more of it.
“Then they rang me and I thought it was a sales call so I didn’t listen much and the guy said to me ‘people are usually much more excited’ so anyway it turned out to be legit and obviously I was affronted at the way I had dismissed the poor bloke.”
Zach travelled to Manchester for the clash with Manchester City already assured of second place in Group C and Celtic eliminated with no chance of Europa League football.
“Zach absolutely loved it,” said his Mum. “He’s not a child to get worked up or nervous but he was so excited. He said they were really well looked after and they got to meet all the City Players and manager Pep Guardiola. He also got to meet ‘Blue Santa’ as well as being taken on a stadium tour and given the UEFA mascot kit and special T-Shirts only for mascots.”
As the build up to the game got uner way in typical Champions League form Zach and his fellow mascots took to the pitch in front of over 51,000 supporters.
“Zach said that when he was in the tunnel, they told him he was going out first and he had really been hoping he’d get Pablo Zabaleta, the Manchester City right back. He was over the moon when he found he was walking out with him. Zach said he was really nice to him, he asked Zach questions and warned him about the noise and the lights flashing.”
The two sides had previously drawn 3-3 in Glasgow earlier in the competition and when the match got underway Celtic started in impressive fashion with on-loan winger Patrick Roberts giving them a fourth-minute lead against his parent club with a crisp finish - an advantage that lasted four minutes before Kelechi Iheanacho drove an angled drive high past Craig Gordon.
The score finished 1-1 but it the whole experience was a real winner for Zach who was over the moon. “Zach loved it,” added Wendy. “He said he was looking at the crowd thinking maybe he will play here one day so it definitely was an experience he will never forget.”