It was 1994, and 11-year-old Peter Lovell had two major life loves: Premier League team Arsenal, thanks to the influence of his parents and grandparents, and dinosaurs, thanks to the just-released Jurassic Park. It also so happened that the same year, Arsenal announced they were looking for a concept for a new club mascot, and turned to its Junior Gunners fan club for ideas.
“The idea came to me from a marriage of my two favorite things,” says Lovell, now 33 and the head of talent acquisition for London-based gaming company Natural Motion. Thinking of marrying his two obsessions, he sat down to sketch his submission.
“I didn’t have any other ideas at the time,” he says. “There was no brainstorming or over-thinking involved. It was a simple, ‘I have to do this’ moment, and see what happens.”
Image courtesy of Peter Lovell
But as serendipitously as he appeared, Gunnersaurus Rex, as Lovell dubbed him, caught Arsenal’s attention. Sue Campbell, Arsenal’s head of travel and events and supporter liaison – as well as Gunnersaurus’ boss — remembers “hundreds” of entries. She also notes that another Junior Gunner, Andrew Wainwright, also submitted a Gunnersaurus Rex. With lightning striking twice, both were declared winners.
“I categorically did not believe it for some time,” Lovell says of winning. “When we heard the news, I was on holiday with my mum and sister in Scotland. This is the era of pre-mobile phones, so a message had been left by my dad at the hotel reception. We had to call back home and hear the news. Sincerely, I refused to believe it.”
The club invited both Lovell and Wainwright into Highbury, Arsenal’s legendary home stadium from 1913 to 2006, for the August 1994 season-opening match to see the vision made flesh, blood, and fabric. Gunnersaurus, a green, friendly rendition of a Tyrannosaurus rex cleaving closely to Lovell’s initial drawing, has been a part of the club since then. At home matches, he roams the sidelines, meets fans, poses for photos, and participates in pre-game introductions. Campbell boasts, “He can even sign his own name now!”
Gunnersaurus has made his fair share of media appearances over the year, the best of which may have been saving a penalty kick from an Arsenal fan on English gameshow A Question of Sport.
Gunnersaurus at work today. Image via Reuters Action Images
He also accompanied the team on recent international trips (including the team’s 2014 New York trip, where he held court at the Arsenal America-hosted pep rally), and routinely delights Arsenal fans at schools, festivals, hospitals, and even weddings.
One of those weddings was Lovell’s in 2013 — with Gunnersaurus’s appearance a surprise engineered by his wife and best man. “That was a truly amazing moment,” Lovell remembers. “I also learned that the guy inside [the Gunnersaurus suit] is the same guy who has been doing the job the entire time. It’s been his life, and so knowing that I had a part in helping that chap find his calling was a really special moment too. We hugged.”
Lovell marvels at Gunnersaurus’s enduring, continuing popularity, especially since he’s only evolved slightly since his original unveiling. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many people around the World who love Gunnersaurus, and have treated me to more than a few drinks to hear the story,” he says.
But does he ever ponder the possibility that his most remembered contribution to the world came at age 11? “Yes, every single day,” he says, laughing.
Part of Gunnersaurus’ enduring appeal is that he’s not a humanoid mascot like some of the other famous and infamous mascots of Britannia. Those include Manchester United’s Fred the Red (also launched in 1994) and Partick Thistle’s recently introduced Kingsley. In fact Lovell specifically calls out Fred the Red, saying, “It shouldn’t be something that looks like you could buy the costume in a decent fancy dress shop."
“With Gunnersaurus, many people wonder how Arsenal ended up with a dinosaur,” he continues. “I always like to point out that the T-Rex was the fiercest of all the dinosaurs, and Arsenal, certainly at their peak, were the team that everyone feared playing. We will have our time again!”
Fans can find Gunnersaurus in San Jose during the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star festivities during Thursday's pre-game Soccer Celebration at Avaya Stadium. Click here for full details.