Delilah dream comes true for lifelong Sunderland AFC fan Joanne Youngson

Joanne Youngson is the cat that got the cream after her 20-year dream to portray Sunderland AFC mascot Delilah came true.

Joanne, 44, has been nursing a feline fantasy ever since the Black Cats first announced plans to give Samson a female counterpart.

She even wrote to the club, offering to fill the costume’s over-sized shoes free of charge, home and away, but to no avail.

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"I think it was during the season we left Roker Park that they first announced they were going to have a new girl mascot – and I wanted the job,” she said.

"I sent a hand-written letter to the club saying I would do it home and away - I go to all the away games anyway – and I wouldn’t take any money for it.”

Alas, her pleas fell on deaf ears, as she discovered on arrival at the match one weekend: “My friend Becky said ‘Don’t get too upset – but Delilah is on the pitch’. I blamed the club for ages for letting me down.”

Social worker Joanne finally got her wish when she was invited to stand in for Delilah’s regular performer at Saturday’s home clash with Cambridge United.

And she proved a lucky mascot indeed, as Alex Neil’s side romped to a resounding 5-1 win in front of an astonishing 32,500 crowd for what fans are desperately hoping will be the club’s last Saturday home fixture in League One.

Joanne meets the fans

The chance to make her dream a reality finally came courtesy of Joanne’s work with the Sunderland Supporters Branch Liaison Council, which runs a Mental Health Hub for supporters at the Beacon of Light before games.

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Samson and Delilah are regular guests and club Supporter Liaison Officer Chris Waters was aware of Joanne’s long-standing ambition: “Chris knew all about it and he just messaged to say ‘Delilah can’t make Saturday. Do you want to come down?’,” she said.

Despite having waited so long, Joanne initially refused, worried she might not be able to cope with the heavy costume: “I am in my 40s now,” she said.

"I was in my 20s when I was offering to do it. I thought I might not be fit enough, so I said ‘No, but thank you’.”

Joanne in costume and trying on Delilah's shoes
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It was her partner, Radio Newcastle Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes, who convinced her to take up the offer: “Nick just said ‘You are joking me. I have known you for five years and that is all you’ve gone on about’.

"So I rang them back.”

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Joanne, from Whitburn, is delighted she decided to change her mind – even if the aches and pains of carrying the suit have set in since the adrenaline wore off.

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Joanne gets inside Delilah's head

"I was up at five o’clock in the morning and I was raring to go by six,” she said.

"Everyone at the club was just fantastic. They could not have looked after me any better. Samson said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it’, and the whole day was incredible.

"I was high-fiving all the police outside the ground and the stewards inside and the supporters were just class. It really was amazing.

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"Even though I am exhausted now, I loved it.

"I absolutely loved it.”