COUNTY NEWS: Sussex man's link to first World Cup mascot revealed '“ and could World Cup Willie be England's lucky charm again?
Gareth Southgate and the boys are rightly getting a lot of the credit for the fact that football is definitely coming home, but there may be someone else who needs thanking.
In 1966, England swept to World Cup glory with the support of the tournament’s first official mascot, World Cup Willie.
Littlehampton resident Terry Ellis was a close friend of the man inside World Cup Willie, the late George Claydon, and he has been posting pictures of the actor on Facebook throughout the tournament asking for his support.
“Hopefully he’s looking down on us,” said Mr Ellis, who used to drive for George, his son’s godfather, in the 1960s.
“He was always late for everything, no matter what it was. He certainly left it a bit late against Colombia, but we got there.”
George Claydon was one of the most prominent actor with dwarfism in the UK during the 1960s, taking a position as their unofficial organiser and leader according to Mr Ellis.
He is probably best known as the lead Oompa Loompa in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or as Photographer George on The Beatles’ TV show the Magical Mystery Tour.
George always had a keen interest in football, said Mr Ellis, and it is through his support of a charity football match in Littlehampton that the two became friends.
“George would always support charity events, as himself and as World Cup Willie,” said Mr Ellis.
“People loved him and children warmed to him especially because of his size.
“He never complained about his height – it didn’t stop him doing anything and he saw it as an advantage if anything. He used to get away with murder because he was so small.”
George led the cheerleading for the Three Lions as their 4-2 victory over West Germany saw them crowned champions and Mr Ellis said he would be happy to take credit for the team’s performances this year from beyond the grave.
“He would have absolutely loved it,” he said.
“He would have put two fingers up to everybody, saying ‘look, I can still do it even when I’m dead’.”
George retired World Cup Willie shortly after the World Cup and sadly passed away in October 2001 at the age of 68.
Since World Cup Willie, every World Cup has adopted a tournament mascot. This year’s mascot is Zabivaka the wolf, whose name translates as ‘the one who scores’.
He’s clearly doing a good job, leading Russia to becoming the surprise package of the tournament. It’s to be hoped George Claydon, in full World Cup Willie regalia, can do the same for us.