Geoff entered the changing room at 2 o’clock exactly that fateful Saturday in March. He always arrived at that time, but today it was even more important. He was the coach of local team, Newtown Athletic, and today’s match was make or break. Win and they had a chance of winning the league, lose and their chance was gone for yet another season.
“Poppy,” he called as he opened the door to the home team’s changing room. “Poppy, come along. Its food time.” But he was met with only silence.
“Where’s she gone this time?” he thought, as he looked around the lockers, behind the shower doors and in each of the toilet cubicles. “Come on, where have you gone?” But there was still no response.
He was still looking when the team started to arrive. The anticipation of the match could be felt in the changing rooms that afternoon, and Geoff was getting nervous.
“Where’s Poppy?” Vinnie Skinner asked, the team’s Captain and top striker. “We don’t want to lose this match.”
Geoff could keep the news to himself no longer. “She’s vanished, boys. Sorry. I’ve looked everywhere.”
“But without Poppy we’ve no chance,” Vinnie replied.
“Come on lads. She’s only a mascot. It’s how we play out there that counts,” and he pointed to the pitch just outside the changing room door.
The team were unsure, but the match had to be played, mascot or no mascot, so at 3 o’clock the team were on the pitch waiting for the whistle to blow. The first half was a disaster. Vinnie was injured by a dodgy tackle and the opposing team managed to get three goals past Newtown’s goalie without a single goal being scored for the home team. By the time the half time whistle blew the team slunk off the pitch and back to the changing rooms, their heads hanging low.
“Come on boys. We need to win this match, even a draw won’t do.” But without Poppy the spirit of the team was gone, and Geoff knew they were sure to lose. But just before they were due to return to the pitch he had an idea.
“Vinnie, can you walk?” he asked.
“Yes, Coach, but it’s painful,” Vinnie replied.
“Never mind a bit of pain. This is important. I want you to look everywhere for Poppy and if you find her bring her to me in the dugout,” Geoff instructed.
The team reluctantly returned to the pitch while Vinnie started his search, going over where Coach Geoff had already looked, then looking everywhere else he could think.
It was fifteen minutes into the second half when Geoff felt a tap on his shoulder. Vinnie stood behind him carrying a large box, the box where towels were kept for the after match showers.
“I found her,” Vinnie explained, “but she’s not alone.”
Geoff peered into the box and to his surprise there lay Poppy, the team’s black and white cat, with four identical black and white kittens. As soon as word got to the team that Poppy had been found their spirits were lifted and by the time the final whistle blew they had won by five goals.
“That’s a goal for Poppy and one each for our new mascots,” Geoff said in the changing rooms. “There’s no stopping us now!”