Lifelong love of football for Shrewsbury's Lenny the Lion
Ron Millar’s love of football began aged 11, when he was sitting outside a pub in Coton Hill, Shrewsbury, with a can of pop and a packet of crisps waiting for his dad.
As he waited that Saturday afternoon, crowds walked past him on their way to Gay Meadow in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury. Deciding he wanted to know what the fuss was about, he made his way to the turnstiles and into the ground where he watched his first game of football.
And now, almost 50 years on, he is involved in a way that as an 11-year-old he would never have imagined.
He has been Shrewsbury Town Football Club’s mascot Lenny the Lion since 1994. Over the years he has seen players come and go and the team take on top-flight clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
But it is Sunday’s fourth round FA Cup tie against Liverpool that he is looking forward to. While his appearances as Lenny have been a roaring success, it could have been so different.
His first outing was as a penguin. “I decided one afternoon that if the Town won, I would run on to the pitch dressed as a penguin. And they did and there was no going back for me then. One of the playing staff shouted at me to come up to the stand and that was it. Radio Shropshire ran a phone-in asking if the club should have a penguin mascot but someone else came up with the idea of a lion and that was it.
“I said I would do it for a week and now we are 26 years down the line.”
It is hard for Ron to decide what is his proudest moment – there have been so many to chose from – but seeing his picture on the front page of the Shropshire Star is up there for him.
“Everybody knows me as Lenny,” said Ron, 59.
“When I am at the ground parents thrust their children at me to have their photos taken. It is lovely to do this for two or three generations of the same family.”
Ron, who is a cobbler by trade, has represented the club both at home and away and has won awards in his role as Lenny.
“I was voted the mascots’ mascot in 2000 and that was a great honour," he said.
"When I started doing this there were very few mascots around the country. It was seen as a very American thing. But it has grown and grown and now every club has a mascot and now the clubs have realised how good it is to have a mascot – the kids love it.”
And Ron has no intention of packing his outfit away.
“I will carry on until we win at Wembley,” he said.
His cumbersome costume has led to a few problems for Ron, who runs the Castle banquet in Shrewsbury.
“At the Football Conference play-off final in 2004 that was played at Stoke when Shrewsbury took on Aldershot Town, I bought a raffle ticket to win a Mini One," he added.
"Unfortunately I was in the stands when the ticket was drawn and I won, but because of my costume, no one could see me shouting and waving. When I didn’t come forward they drew a new ticket and someone else won.”
He has been enjoying some banter with fellow Shrewsbury cobbler, Ron Moorcroft – a Liverpool fan.
The pair met years ago, in fact Mr Moorcroft taught Ron how to be a cobbler, and the pair have enjoyed some healthy competition ever since, which will continue into the weekend.
“We both hope the best team will win on Sunday,” said Ron, who is looking forward to either win or a draw.
“We have only 20 plus players to choose from, Liverpool have many more.
“They beat us 4-0 in 1996. The atmosphere at the Meadow is really going to make it and the crowds are equal to the men on the pitch.
“They will help us win or draw. They have to be the 12th man!”