The original Gunnersaurus: ‘All I wanted was for somebody to say I’d done a good job’ – The Athletic

By James McNicholas7h ago

For 26 years, Jerry Quy was Gunnersaurus. He was the man who brought Arsenal’s dinosaur mascot to loveable life. And then, during the pandemic, everything changed.

“I was in the car, taking the FA Cup around so fans could see it,” explains 71-year-old Jerry. “The guy who was driving got a text saying, ‘Cor blimey. Arsenal have made 55 people redundant’. I thought, ‘It won’t be me’, but I was on the list.”

With the Premier League’s cavernous stadiums left empty by lockdown, Jerry was informed there was no need for a full-time Gunnersaurus.

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“I was upset and disappointed,” he tells The Athletic. “I just wanted a handshake, for somebody to say, ‘Well, 26 years of Gunnersaurus, you did a good job’, but I didn’t get that from anybody at Arsenal.”

While losing his livelihood was painful enough, the hardest part was saying goodbye to Gunnersaurus, the character Jerry had embodied since its inception.

“I never felt like it was a job doing Gunnersaurus,” says Jerry. “It was an honour. I would’ve carried on doing it voluntarily forever. It was my privilege.”

Gunnersaurus developed good relationships with plenty of players down the years (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Jerry’s home in the Woodford area of north-east London is a treasure trove of Arsenal memorabilia. Any shelf space not occupied by Arsenal goodies and family photos is loaded with lawn-bowls trophies — he has made use of his lighter schedule to hone his game at his local club.

His association with Arsenal goes back to childhood. Ever since attending his first game in 1963, he was besotted. When Jerry had children of his own, his connection to the club deepened.

“In 1983, my eldest son Daniel was lucky enough to be picked as the first ever Arsenal mascot,” he recalls. “We played Luton Town and Charlie Nicholas made his debut. The manager, Terry Neil, actually carried Daniel onto the pitch in his arms!

“About a week later, I got a telephone call from the club saying, ‘We’re looking for a bit of help on matchdays in the family enclosure. Would you be interested?’. It all started from there.”

Jerry had a full-time job in publishing but began working with the Junior Gunners part-time.

During the 1993-94 season, the club held a competition for young fans to design a new Arsenal mascot. The winner was an 11-year-old boy called Peter Lovell. Inspired by the movie Jurassic Park, he proposed the new mascot should be a giant green dinosaur named ‘Gunnersaurus Rex’.

Two decades later, Lovell was reunited with his creation — on his wedding day. “His best man rang me up to say Peter was getting married,” explains Quy. “I got ready in a back room and when he came into the reception, Gunnersaurus just popped up! He was gobsmacked.”

Jerry was actually the first person at Arsenal to ever step inside the Gunnersaurus suit. “Arsenal had it made by (theatrical costume company) Rainbow Productions,” says Quy. “When Gunnersaurus got delivered, he was just sat in the JVC centre (Arsenal’s former indoor training centre near their then Highbury stadium). We went to have a look and someone piped up, ‘Jerry, would you jump in?’.”

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Jerry obliged. “I walked up and down a bit and thought, ‘This is hard work’. It’s heavy, it’s hot, it weighs on you. I came out and said, ‘I don’t fancy doing that again!’.”

When it came to matchdays, however, a volunteer was needed — and Jerry put himself forward. Gunnersaurus made his debut at Highbury, for a 3-0 win over Manchester City, on August 20, 1994. Jerry went on to inhabit the suit for the next 26 years.

Jerry has kept an Arsenal programme from every home game since 1963 (James McNicholas/The Athletic)

For the first decade or so, Jerry’s mascot duties remained a part-time role. Then, in 2003, his life took a tragic turn. “My wife passed away and my job in publishing made me redundant,” he says. “I’d lost my job and my wife at the same time. I had no clue what to do with myself.”

Jerry then received a call from Arsenal’s Iain Cook. “He knew I’d lost my job and asked me whether I’d like to become a tour guide,” says Jerry. “I said no initially — I found it quite daunting, the idea of speaking publicly.”

Several months went by. “I used to go to the crematorium every day; just sit there and do nothing,” Jerry recalls. “A friend came round and took me out for a walk. He said, ‘Come on now, you can’t carry on like this’. By the time we’d walked round the block, I’d rung Iain Cook and asked, ‘Is the job still available?’.”

It was. Jerry became a tour guide at Highbury — and later at the Emirates Stadium — while doubling up as Gunnersaurus for home games. Crucially, the job also granted him access to watching his beloved Arsenal home and away. While Gunnersaurus occasionally visited other grounds, many stadiums were strict ‘no dino’ zones, so Jerry was free to attend matches as a fan. “You wouldn’t take Gunnersaurus to (arch-rivals Tottenham’s former ground) White Hart Lane, for example,” explains Jerry. “They wouldn’t allow it.”

Gunnersaurus and David Seaman after Arsenal beat Middlesbrough in the 2002 FA Cup semi-finals (Gary M Prior/Getty Images)

For a grieving Jerry, Arsenal provided a lifeline. “Without the Arsenal, the whole package — football, away games, home games, Gunnersaurus — I wouldn’t have got through it.”

And being Gunnersaurus had a huge impact on Jerry. “It completely changed me,” he explains. “If I’m not talking about Arsenal, I can be a bit quiet and reserved. But as soon as I put that head on, I became a different person. I was more confident, more outgoing. Nobody ever got past Gunnersaurus without a high five or a hug.”

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That was Jerry’s aspiration for Gunnersaurus: “To be a lovely, cuddly, huggable character. There’s a lady who sits down by the pitch who has lovely curly hair. Every time I passed, I’d ruffle her hair up — she loved it. I still see her today and she says, ‘I won’t even look at that new Gunnersaurus’.”

Even Jerry’s shed is an Aladdin’s cave of discarded Arsenal memorabilia (James McNicholas/The Athletic)

Gunnersaurus captured the hearts of Arsenal fans young and old — but eventually, his rising popularity presented a problem.

“I was quite happy doing both jobs at the Emirates but then Gunnersaurus got too big,” says Jerry.

“One Christmas, we were playing Newcastle away and West Ham away. I was expecting to be able to go on my club ticket but was told, ‘You can’t go. We need you here, doing tours’. I was distraught — I never missed a game. I asked, ‘What’s the chance of Gunnersaurus going full-time?’.”

Within a day, Jerry had his answer: being Gunnersaurus was now a full-time job.

Matchdays were what he loved most. For a typical 3pm kick-off, Jerry would arrive at the Emirates Stadium at around midday. He’d usually wear a football kit under the costume — an Arsenal one, of course — simply “to soak up the sweat”.

“I’d be in the suit from about 1pm,” he explains. “There’d usually be requests from box holders, asking if Gunnersaurus could pop in to meet them. Then I’d always make sure I was back to greet the first team when the coach arrived.

“The rules are you’re only supposed to do 20 minutes and then have a break, but I’d do a full two hours non-stop up until kick-off.”

“Mrs Wenger (then manager Arsene’s wife) was one of my favourite people. If I spotted her getting out of her car in the car park, I’d run off to her and we’d have a hug and a kiss.”

Gunnersaurus congratulates Arsene Wenger after Arsenal’s FA Cup success in 2015 (Steve Bardens – The FA via Getty Images)

Gunnersaurus would sometimes be called into the referee’s room to mingle with any friends or family the match officials might have visiting that day.

“Then I’d go round the pitch,” Jerry continues. “Usually, there’d be certain requests — ‘Can you come to Block 14?’. That kind of thing. I had someone to walk me around, be my eyes and ears. You can’t see too much as Gunnersaurus: it’s pretty much tunnel vision.”

Gunnersaurus and the Women’s Super League trophy (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Jerry would change out of the suit to watch the game, but his workday was far from over.

“After full-time, I loved going around box level,” he says. “Sometimes, other staff wanted to get away after the game but I’d say, ‘No problem, I’ll go on my own’. I used to go all the way round, from Box One to (Box) 150.”

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His time as Gunnersaurus meant Jerry built friendships with a number of first-team players.

“We used to do a thing where the young mascot on the day would take some shots against the first-team goalkeeper,” he says. “Well, one day at Highbury, the mascot was on crutches, so Jens Lehmann called Gunnersaurus down instead and I took a few shots at him in front of the North Bank. How good is that?

“We became friends. I met him, out of the suit. I’ve got a signed shirt from him upstairs.”

It is displayed on the wall in Jerry’s spare room, next to signed shirts from Lehmann’s fellow ’keepers Manuel Almunia and Wojciech Szczesny.

A signed shirt dedicated to Jerry’s alter ego by Manuel Almunia (James McNicholas/The Athletic)

Jerry befriended other players, including Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie, after making appearances at their children’s birthday parties. “Theo Walcott’s son had a party at a trampoline park,” he recalls. “Gunnersaurus went along, jumping up and down on the trampoline in full costume. It was crazy.

“Ian Wright wrestled me to the floor during a testimonial at Highbury. Lukas Podolski pushed me over on the Wembley pitch. He got someone to bend down behind me and I went flying! But that was Podolski — I loved it. It was all part and parcel of being a mascot.

“After we won the FA Cup in 2014, we had the parade and everyone came back to the Emirates. (Defender) Bacary Sagna was sitting down having a meal with all the players. I’d got changed out of my costume and was lining up for my food. He signalled to me, ‘Come here, come here, come here!’, so I went over and knelt down by his side and he said, ‘Can I ask you a question… are you Gunnersaurus?’. And I came right back at him, ‘Can I ask you a question… are you leaving to join Man City?’. We had a laugh about it.” (Sagna did move to City that summer.)

As Gunnersaurus, Jerry became part of the wider mascot fraternity. When the man who was Southend United mascot Sammy the Shrimp passed away, Gunnersaurus was one of several mascots who attended the funeral.

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“His wife asked if mascots would come,” says Jerry. “Captain Blade from Sheffield United was there, Moonchester from Man City, the Bradford City Gent. We actually stood in the church in costume while they carried him in.”

Gunnersaurus was known for some of his more sombre moments and was occasionally pictured observing a minute’s silence. “That was actually a contentious thing,” says Jerry. “Some people didn’t think I should be on the pitch for the minute’s silence. Eventually, they took me off it.”

In 2019, Jerry began to suspect Arsenal were thinking of removing him permanently. The club sent him for a BUPA medical. “Maybe I’m just paranoid but I thought Arsenal were trying to get rid of me,” he says. “But I passed with flying colours!”

The pandemic, however, changed things. When Arsenal chose to dispense with Jerry, it became national news. Ex-Arsenal players such as Lee Dixon and Perry Groves sent messages of support.

“The newspapers came round and knocked on my front door,” he says. “It was uncomfortable because I was never going to rubbish Arsenal. I don’t blame them for cutting back and making those decisions. It was just the way it happened that I didn’t like.”

When news broke that Jerry was being let go, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil declared he was willing to cover Gunnersaurus’ salary. “I ended up on a three-way telephone conversation with Mesut’s agent and a solicitor who was helping me at the time,” says Jerry. “I would’ve done anything to keep my job, so I said, ‘Let’s give it a go’.

“I probably knew deep down it would never work, as Mesut was having his own issues with the club.”

Even as he went through the redundancy process, Jerry continued making content for the club. During the Covid-19 lockdown, he had the suit at home. “I brought him home with me because Arsenal still wanted content,” he says. “Even though I was being let go, I would not stop doing Gunnersaurus.

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“They’d send me a list of ideas and I’d get my daughter round to film me doing goal celebrations and all sorts.

“At times, I was waiting around in between shooting things with my daughter, so I started practising keepy-uppies in the suit. I got up to 22 in the end. I’m so proud of it — I show everybody the video!”

Every year, Gunnersaurus’ kit is updated to match what the players wear. Over the years, Jerry had been allowed to collect the dino-sized shirts. He’d amassed a collection of kit, spare heads, boots — and, of course, still had possession of one of the iconic suits.

“That was the saddest thing for me,” he says. “I had 26 years of memories and then one day I got a call from my line manager saying, ‘We want it all back’. I should’ve said, ‘No, on your bike’ — but I didn’t. They sent a massive van and took it all away.

“It was hurtful. They’d allowed me to have them.”

The loss of his job was compounded by losing access to match tickets. Jerry was not on the season-ticket waiting list and faced being locked out of watching his beloved Arsenal.

In the end, a friend in the box office intervened. “I got a season ticket — but I had to pay for it, full-whack,” says Jerry. “No freebies or discounts. I guess I left under a bit of a cloud because of all the TV and newspaper coverage.”

When it came to away games, Jerry was taken in by the official supporters’ club, who he now travels with to every match.

“I’ve got a season ticket for the ladies, too,” he says. “I get to their games whenever I can.

“I’ve met Gunnersaurus up there and had my picture done with him a few times. I’m getting over it a little bit now.”

There are three Gunnersaurus suits these days, one of which resides permanently in China. “A few different people do it now,” says Jerry. “One of my old mates from stadium tours rang me up and said, ‘Jerry, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to be doing Gunnersaurus’. I said, ‘Go for it!’.

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“The other day I saw Gunnersaurus doing half-time penalties and I thought he did really well.”

When he’s not watching Arsenal, playing bowls or spending time with his grandchildren, Jerry volunteers in a shop for disability charity Scope. “I love it, chatting to people,” he says. “I’m a people person. I missed that when I left the Arsenal.” Occasionally, he’ll tell customers he was Gunnersaurus — they usually don’t believe him.

For Jerry, any remaining pain is balanced by his pride. As Gunnersaurus, he brought joy to thousands of fans and helped create a true Premier League icon.

“Listen, I’ve got 26 years of great memories,” he says. “I just loved being Gunnersaurus.”

(Top photo: James McNicholas/The Athletic)

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James McNicholas has covered Arsenal extensively for more than a decade. He has written for ESPN, Bleacher Report and FourFourTwo Magazine, and is the co-host of the Arsecast Extra Podcast. Follow James on Twitter @gunnerblog

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