Go The Unicorns? Reviving the debate

Should Melville embrace “The Unicorns” nickname and associated mascot imagery?

The idea was soundly rejected at last year’s AGM, but has again raised its thorny, horny head in recent times, with mascots appearing unofficially at Gower Park and elsewhere, complete with the odd sideline chant.

And now Melville’s “no nickname-or-mascot” identity crisis is getting another pointy nudge, thanks to outside help.

Kylie, a Hamilton PR and marketing graduate, has joined a blessing of unicorns (yes, that’s the official collective noun) that have increasingly come out of the shadows at Gower Park.

As moves spontaneously grow to legitimise imagery that has been part of the club’s heritage for decades in the form of the heraldry on the Melville crest, Kylie volunteered to dress up and pose as a unicorn mascot herself, to help illustrate the possibilities.

This, she argued, would make the concept of nickname and mascot branding easier to grasp for some club members and facilitate the path forward.

In posing for these photos Kylie assumed a theme of “provocative celebration” in the wake of Melville’s northern league title. She worked on the assumption that even the stupidest club member would appreciate this is not how a club mascot would ordinarily present itself, but that it merely showed the range of possibilities with which you could have fun with a mascot.

But first a bit of a back story.

At last year’s Melville AGM, a notice of motion was tabled to adopt the unicorn as the club’s official nickname.

The statement of case explained how two fire-breathing unicorns are represented on the club’s emblem, though because the artwork is so shabby and indistinct, nobody realised that’s what they were.

However the motion was defeated, with one sceptical club member saying he would wet himself if he was identified as a unicorn, and that incontinent mood prevailed on the day.

In some quarters that then led to a counter-movement to propose “The Griffins” as a club nickname. This was an ironic straw-horse argument which obviously made no sense at all, but was simply designed to spotlight how stupid it had been to reject the one nickname that DID make sense in terms of the club‘s existing heritage, heraldry, and sporting symbolism.

But support for the Unicorns is now snowballing.

An “unofficial” unicorn mascot was first sighted at the home game against Waiheke United.

That came about after a club life member, while on holiday in Kings Cross, came across a unicorn head at a Trader Jacks store, and smuggled it back home past Customs. Then a young club supporter gleefully jumped at the chance to be mascot for the day.

However first team officials vetoed a proposal to have the unicorn walk out on the pitch with a match ball, fearing it may distract their players from the immediate task at hand.

But after Melville’s title win at Ellerslie, one of the first questions those same easily distracted players asked was: “Where is the Unicorn head?”

Once located, celebratory beer was drunk from it.

Now Kylie – happy to mix her professional expertise with a genuine soft spot for unicorns – is modelling the fun or “personality” side of a melville mascot, were the club to pluck up the courage to adopt a matching nickname.

“Nicknames are commonly derived from club emblems, and once you’ve embraced a nickname, the mascot and everything else quickly falls into place,” Kylie told the Melville website.

“The most powerful nicknames are not only mascot-friendly, but also square the circle with regards to an emblem, which at best can represent not just a club, but even a concept, like a moral truth, or an allegory.

“For a sports club like Melville a nickname is a no-brainer. The only issue is identifying one where you can align a mascot as an identifying and unifying symbol, which in turn will help people better remember the flagship team, or teams.

“The Unicorns is brilliant in this regard, because it is gender-neutral, insofar as it has strong feminist connections while also having the phallic symbolism that appeals more to the male psyche.”

Kylie argued once Melville moved to “the mascot stage” it would enable the club’s target audience to better identify, remember, and understand the club brand.

“And unlike spokespeople that age, die, have affairs and do other things that can damage your brand, mascots are ageless representatives that help your supporters develop a closer relationship with the team.

“In short, a club ‘spokes-creature’ has more capacity to be loved than a real person. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?

“Sort your nickname and you quickly create a mascot that gives the Melville brand a face, a character and a personality.

“That in turn makes it easier to create a physical and emotional connection with your audience. Remember, without a face to your Melville brand, you’re simply another sports club with an empty logo.

“And I’d wager more club supporters would want to engage with me dressed as a unicorn, than, say, your club secretary or chairman.

“Mascots are wonderful on all fronts. They don’t take holidays, get sick, or get you into trouble. In fact, they can actually make money for you when they are sold as collectable club souvenirs.”

Think of it this way, she said: “You’re at a crowded football event. There are people everywhere and you’re simply trying to walk through. All of the sudden you see a giant, smiling unicorn mascot … and it makes you smile.

“You might even have a positive and friendly interaction with the mascot, such as a hug, you might take a selfie with the unicorn or you might just give it a high five. Think about what a great social media strategy Melville could have behind its unicorn nickname and mascot.

“At the AGM last year what you should really have been debating was a business plan for how to engage with supporters around the nickname, emblem and mascot, and how to monetise the proposition.”

Kylie pointed out mascots were powerful social media tools that allowed a club to easily entertain their audience, build a personality, and engage followers in ways that are much more difficult through an administrative hierarchy.

“Mascots are unique. They have personality and they draw attention wherever they go. They become a spectacle that people look forward to seeing.

“Audiences young and old have fun with mascot characters. Simply put – they’re fun! They can make you laugh, they work hard to entertain you, and they are a step outside basic marketing tactics. They give you hugs or they intimidate the opposing team.”

However Kylie warned there were also limits.

“At best a mascot should have an attitude, an edge, and be desirable in every sense. Though having said that, there is a fine line. The mascot can’t be too gender-aligned. An overtly male mascot can be a turn-off, while equally, an overly attractive feminine mascot can unintentionally alienate your female base, who may feel threatened.

“But in summary, the unicorn would already appear to be emblematic or totemic of Melville – the club just hasn’t realised it yet.

“My photos might just help crystallise some abstract ideas in visual terms – though I would say, if I am ever going to put that unicorn head on again, first team players have got to stop drinking out of it.”

Meanwhile Melville secretary Bruce Holloway, who tabled the nickname motion last year, said he was no longer actively lobbying for The Unicorns.

“I only cook my cabbages once,” Holloway said. “Melville foolishly rejected the only emblematic imagery that would ever make sense with its heritage and history.

“Experience is a harsh mistress and has taught me that in football, things that make absolutely no sense at all have a far greater chance of success. That is why I now lean towards Melville becoming ‘The Griffins’. Having a nickname is hardly a radical step and I can see that succeeding where The Unicorns failed – because it has no rationale whatsoever.

“However if somebody else can make ‘The Unicorns’ work, that would certainly mark a fine footballing comeback, and despite their fierce nature, The Griffins would not lose their biscuit and oppose it.”

Melville commercial manager Steve Owens said recent events suggested “The Unicorns” nickname could well be accepted if it was put to this year’s AGM.

More about unicorns

In earlier times most clubs took the coat-of-arms of their town or community as their insignia, and such crests were the most common form of emblem prior to the 1980s. In modern times crests have taken more contemporary designs, which are less fussy and complicated, and easier to commit to memory and recognise at a distance.

Traditionally where animals appear in emblems they tend to be one which reflect power or savage determination (birds of prey, bulls, wolves, stallions, bears, etc). So the unicorn has erm, a point of difference.

As everyone knows, the unicorn is a legendary creature, described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiralling horn projecting from its forehead. It’s a magical horned-horse that missed Noah’s ark boarding.

Indeed, the unicorn is one of a very few mythological creatures that is considered to be beneficial in almost all traditions. It represents love, purity, and the seeking of natural truth. It symbolizes balance of the yin and yang, and recognizes the power and mystique that animals can bring into our lives; which can ultimately help us learn the core of who we really are.

In the Middle Ages the unicorn was considered a wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin (which means it would be tough to catch one at Gower Park). Its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.

Alternately, the Urban Dictionary defines a unicorn as a girl that is remarkably attractive, sexy, with a great personality, but not at all batshit crazy.

“That girl is a ten for sure.”

“No bro, she’s not a ten – she’s beyond a ten. She’s my unicorn.”

More about griffins

It’s just a silly idea with no merit, but football people really like silly ideas with no merit.

Club members wishing to express their views about unicorns (or griffins) can email info@melvilleunited.co.nz

Recent Posts