Most professional sports clubs, today, have a mascot; whether it’s a shark, a red devil, a moose, or single-eyed aliens named after Shropshire hills. They provide a club (or an event) with a simple identity, a marketable product to sell in the club shop, and entertainment for young fans who would much rather be at home playing with their toys than sat, of a cold winter’s evening, on uncomfortable plastic seats in a stadium. Amongst the earliest practioners of club mascots were big-time American sports clubs such as the Chicago Cubs who, so wikipedia usefully informs us, have had one since 1908. Before becoming associated with sport, the mascot was something used by the armed forces. It was always a fun moment, growing up, when the Royal Welsh band entered the field at the Arms Park led by their goat.
Mascots have been widely used in British sporting circles since at least the 1920s. Soccer clubs in Wales, more readily than rugby clubs that were often much older, adopted mascots early on as a way of popularising the sport and capitalising on the proclaimed connections between the club and the local community. Pontypridd Football Club, founded in 1911, were no different. Although rugby had been played in Pontypridd since the 1870s, soccer was a new import (and still considered alien) and the club needed an emblem to link it to the town and to the nation. They chose the dragon – perhaps the ultimate symbol of Welshness – and until their demise in 1926, Ponty FC were known to one and all as the Dragons.
Near neighbours in the expanding field of Valleys soccer included Mid Rhondda Athletic (the Mushrooms) and Caerphilly Town (the Jackdaws) whose nicknames were much less easily personified by a mascot. Pity the poor Rhondda-ite who might have had to dance along the touchline dressed as a mushroom or his comrade from Caerphilly dressed up as a bird. Not so the Pontypriddian in the bright scarlet costume of a dragon!
Historians have yet to focus much attention on club mascots but they were an important feature in the growing popularity and business potential of professional sports. As professionalism advances through more and more of the sporting world and sporting outfits break out from the immediate locality in which they play, club identities are increasingly reduced to simple manifestations that are more universal in nature: the Warrington Wolves of rugby league, the Ospreys of rugby union, the Blue Jays of baseball, and so forth. When historians come to write the British history of such things, perhaps they will find that a lanky man from Pontypridd dressed up in his dragon suit was one of the first.