When Ezri Konsa led Brentford out on to the pitch for their Sky Bet Championship game against Reading on Saturday, he was making a dream come true for the young man next to him. Woody, six, only found out a few hours before kick-off that he would be Brentford’s mascot for the game, which ended in a 2-2 draw, as The Bees looked to restore his faith in the beautiful game after he had been unable to join in with a local club. And it was a day to remember for the young Brentford fan, who has Down’s syndrome.
Brentford had been alerted to the fact that Woody was looking for a way to get involved in his favourite sport, joining in with organised sessions or playing for a team. The Club linked him up with Brentford Penguins – a football programme for those with Down’s syndrome run by former player Allan Cockram, supported by Brentford FC Community Sports Trust as well as DS Active. The Trust can also cater for footballers with disabilities and will be aiming to get him playing soon. But the Club wanted to do more.
Fan Engagement Manger Ryan Murrant made contact with Woody’s mother – Natalie O’Rourke – early on Saturday morning. Woody was available to lead the team out before the game against Reading and, dressed in a full Brentford kit, walked out in front of 10,000+ fans a few hours later. He got the chance to meet the players, walk on the turf and had his picture taken before kick-off.
Natalie, Woody’s Mum, said: “It all happened so quickly. I shared that he had been unable to join in with a local club and on Friday night my comments were being shared. By Saturday morning it had gone so wide that Brentford had seen it and I had a call asking if Woody could come down and be the mascot. Normally there is lots of red tape but Ryan just made it happen.
“Woody can’t talk but he uses Makaton sign language. He was so excited when I told him, he was jumping up and down. From start to finish, the day was amazing. I can’t explain how good everyone was to us. Woody was on cloud nine, it was the best day of his life. Everyone at Brentford just made sure he was included, sadly that doesn’t always happen.
“Football is all he talks about. Brentford is our local team and I made the decision that we would support The Bees. We bought him a shirt and showed him about Brentford on the internet. He knows he is a Brentford fan and can sign it. It’s all he has talked about ever since. For Christmas we will buy him tickets to a match and we will go when he can. It is all he is interested in and I want to get him to Griffin Park as much as I can.”
Best of all, Natalie explained that she had been put in touch with people who could help get Woody on the pitch. She said that he plays and school and at home but wants to play more. 21 & Co, a charity that supports children with Down’s syndrome and their families, has a football club he can join in with and there will be other opportunities for him as offers of help have flooded in.
Mark Devlin, Brentford FC Chief Executive, spoke to BBC Radio London about what the Club had done. He said: “Fans brought it to our attention on social media and within hours we had a phone number and made contact with the family. A lot of credit goes to the fans that told us about it and then Ryan and those who helped in the Community Sports Trust who made it happen. Our fans know our DNA and that we will do something like this, it is what makes us a bit different from other clubs. Most clubs have good hearts and clubs do lots of good things and this sort of thing is at the heart of our philosophy.
“It is important to us to put a smile on the face of young people and their families. Woody brings a smile to your face and there is an open invitation for him to come here as often as possible. Football is a game for everyone and you can’t fail to be moved by the joy that was brought to Woody and his family.” You can hear the full interview here.
Amy Crook, Brentford FC CST Matchday Co-Ordinator, looks after our mascots at Griffin Park. She said: “It was great to be able to be a part of Woody’s day. I knew how important it was to lift his spirits and made sure we supported the lad and restored some of his faith in football. To see his face and the smile getting bigger makes this such a great job and to see him have a memorable day is the best feeling.
As a friend of @ParkLaneStables and Woody and a big @BrentfordFC fan loved seeing Woody leady the team out! What a great afternoon for everyone involved. Look foward to a night out at Griffin park on Tuesday come on you bee's!!!— Ashley (@AshleyI1988) September 29, 2018
Thank you so much for looking after my lovely friend Natalie and her lovely ray of sunshine woody can’t believe how quickly and to what length you guys went to to turn a negative experience to a positive one Fantastic club with fantastic ethics 💙🐝— Samantha Meadows (@Samanth04120862) September 29, 2018