Dressing up as a black cat in the name of football is the perfect antidote to stress for one teacher, reports George Wright
SATURDAYS spent in the company of hordes of screaming children might not seem like the best way for a teacher to wind down.
But for Fiona Williams, who becomes Delilah the black cat, mascot for Sunderland AFC, every match day, it provides the perfect antidote to life in the classroom.
As a lifelong Sunderland supporter, Mrs Williams, 28, who teaches a mixed class of Year 3 and 4 pupils, does not mind that her colleagues consider her "daft as a brush". She loves her Saturday job, which involves cheering on her team and encouraging young fans. And keeping the supporters cheering is not so easy while the club rests on the bottom of the Premiership league table.
Sunderland face relegation from the Premiership after losing seven straight matches, and manager Howard Wilkinson was sacked on Monday after only six months in charge, to be replaced by Mick McCarthy, the former Ireland manager.
Fiona Williams said: "When I'm clowning about out there I completely forget about the week's troubles. It does not matter if I've had the worst week in the world at school - once I get into my costume nothing else matters. I go out there and meet the young fans and their parents and basically act daft.
I spend about an hour and a half before each game getting the crowd motivated, signing autographs and having photos taken."
"It is all about keeping the younger fans' spirits up - especially when the club is going through a bad time, as we are at the moment. I also do my special, wavy-tailed strut, to wind up rival fans."
The mascot role also helps her in her day job, even though most pupils and staff at her school, Western primary in Wallsend, are predominantly rival Newcastle United supporters.
"I get a lot of banter and micky-taking from my colleagues but the kids love it," she said. "They think it is cool to have a teacher that does something so wacky and wild - it makes them see I am human, even if I support the wrong team."
Mrs Williams came up with the idea of a female companion for the original mascot, Samson the black cat, in 1997, when Sunderland moved to its current home at the Stadium of Light.
"I wrote to the club, then just kept pestering them until they agreed to let me do it."
Six years later, Mrs Williams, who lives with her policeman husband in Cramlington, Northumberland, said her mother keeps pressing her to "settle down and have kids", but she will not consider giving up Delilah.
She said: "There's no way I will stop doing it. I have been doing this for six years, which is a year longer than I have been teaching. I absolutely love it, and even though the club only pays me a nominal fee, I would happily do it for nothing."