A pair of young mascots are hoping to lead Sunderland to a crucial victory tomorrow as they pay an emotional tribute to their late dad.
Black Cats fans are being urged to raise the roof for Leah and Callum Chessell, aged 10 and seven, who will lead out Sam Allardyce’s side against Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.
It’s going to mean a lot to them to go out onto the pitch, and hopefully the fans will give them a big cheerGemma Chessell
The pair lost their dad Barry, 32, last September after he suffered a brain haemorrhage.
Barry was originally from Kent and an Arsenal supporter, but moved to Sunderland 11 years before his death, and the Wearsiders became his adopted team.
Matches between Sunderland and Arsenal always carried great significance for the fork-lift truck driver.
Ahead of the game, Barry’s friend Billy Reay wrote to Sunderland to ask if his children could be mascots, and the club obliged.
Leah and Callum will attend with mum Gemma, 31, and other family members.
Gemma said: “They’re really excited, because they know it’s for their dad. This game has always had a lot of meaning for us because they were Barry’s two teams.
“It’s a great gesture by the club to allow this to happen, because it has been a tough time for everyone, especially the children. A day like this will provide them with some good memories, and they know why they’re doing it.
“Callum, in particular, is really looking forward to it because he’s a big football fan. Leah is also very excited.
“It’s going to mean a lot to them to go out onto the pitch, and hopefully the fans will give them a big cheer.”
Barry had signed up to the organ donor register, and five people were saved thanks to his heart, liver, lungs and both kidneys.
Gemma has since signed herself and their two children to the register, too, and hopes their appearance tomorrow will help to raise awareness of organ donation.