Most football fans will recognise Gunnersaurus as the larger-than-life dinosaur who has been Arsenal's mascot since 1994. It's hard to miss him when he's being driven around in open-top cars, stoically observing the minute's silence, and psyching out John Terry with weird pre-match handshakes. But few know exactly where he came from – or why a North London football club would choose an eight-foot green dinosaur as their corporate representative.
His genesis is actually a refreshingly innocent story amidst a world of hyper-commercial 21st century football. During the 93-94 season the club ran a contest for their younger fans to design a new mascot. Two winners were picked, though the credit for both the name and design falls to Peter Lovell, whose entry (below) is Gunnersaurus Rex.
"I've been an Arsenal fan all my life. My mum and dad were Arsenal fans, my grandparents were Arsenal fans – it's in our blood," says Peter.
"There was a competition that the Junior Gunners ran to design Arsenal's mascot. I was a fairly active member; we lived in London and used to go to Highbury all the time.
"I was always into art as a kid and at the time I was drawing a kind of comic book series of dinosaurs because I was obsessed with Jurassic Park. It was just one of those eureka moments where the name suddenly came to me – Gunnersaurus Rex.
"So I started to flesh out this big, friendly-but-cool dinosaur that I thought really embodied – at least at the time – the ferocity and power of Arsenal Football Club. I think my mum came down and saw me sketching him out and said it looked great. I was 11 years old, highly impressionable, and I thought, 'well, I might take this a bit seriously then!' So I scrapped the first attempt and got a nice big piece of paper out .
"It was a one-take drawing; it happened really quickly, it wasn't something that I put a great deal of time into. And I thought, 'God, that's perfect', and coloured him in and then started to write out a little bit about him."
A few weeks later, Peter found out his entry had been short-listed. Then he got another call and a letter from the club informing him that Gunnersaurus Rex was about to come to life.
"They invited me to the inaugural mascot ceremony where I ran around the pitch with Gunnersaurus and got to meet the guy inside. And for the next 20 years I've watched in awe as my little Gunnersaurus Rex has gone on to become a loved and idolised part of Arsenal.
"It's the most immensely flattering and wonderful thing. Wherever I go and meet an Arsenal fan, it doesn't take me long to drop in that I designed Gunneraurus. I have a drink bought for me everywhere because he's such a wonderfully loved character. It's the proudest thing I've ever done.
"Being 11 years old and designing a Premier League mascot gave me real self-affirmation. To have that injection of confidence – no art A Level teacher was ever going to tell me that I sucked at art because I could always say, 'how many Premier League mascots have you designed, mate?' So I'm grateful to Arsenal for the concept of the competition, for giving it to a young audience."
More than 20 years later, Peter's childhood creation continues to play a part in his life. Gunnersaurus even turned up at his wedding in August 2013.
"Unbeknownst to me, my wife, my best man and my family contacted Arsenal. So I did my speech and my best man did his, and at the end he told the Gunnersaurus story. And I'm like, 'that's great, I didn't think the story would come up today.' Then there was this amazing reveal where these curtains opened up and in runs Gunnersaurus Rex with a signed letter from Arsene Wenger and all kinds of cool stuff –I was just blown away.
"There were a lot of Arsenal fans there and none of them had any idea it was going to happen, so it was a wonderful moment. And it was made even more special when I learnt that the gentleman inside the dinosaur is the same guy who ran around with me as an 11-year-old! So not only is Gunnersaurus a great icon and mascot for Arsenal, he's provided this guy with his calling as well. I had one of those wonderful hit-home moments where the significance of an 11-year-old's drawing on a kitchen table really came through. It was a beautiful moment, a beautiful day."
Peter's pride is almost father-like – he refers to Gunnersaurus by his full name of Gunnersaurus Rex and says the dinosaur "feels like my son who I don't get to speak to very much."
"He's not only the coolest mascot in the Premier League, he's the most powerful, he's the most fun, and I think the most adored. We've got this awesome, much-loved icon. I was nearly in tears when I saw him hugging Cesc Fabregas after his last game at the Emirates [in 2011].
"It's the most rewarding thing. Whenever I watch Arsenal – and whatever the results – I see him and feel like a proud Fathersaurus."