None of us really knows what they are for or what purpose they serve but as the face of football has changed almost beyond recognition down the decades the World Cup mascot still remains firmly part of FIFA’s fixtures and fittings.
From soft toys to national stereotypes, the mascot for many sums up their childhood and provides a lasting legacy for past tournaments as much as any action that takes place on the field.
So here are 5 of the most recognisable mascots from tournaments gone by and just why they have cemented their place in football folklore.
World Cup Willie: England 1966
Much is talked about the World Cup finals of 1966, not just because it was the last time that England won the tournament, but something which often goes unnoticed is the fact that this competition, held in England, was also the first to ever introduce us to a mascot.
A Reg Hoye creation, an illustrator more famous for his work on Enid Blyton books, Willie sums up these pre-devolution days by sporting a Union Jack despite the fact that no other “Home Nations” were present; but by plastering Willie on everything from tea towels to toast racks our furry friend ensured that the World Cup mascot was here to stay.
Piquet: Mexico, 1986
Having hosted the tournament just 16 years previously Mexico could have been forgiven for offering us something of a last minute rush-job when it came to the most coveted character in sport, however, in Piquet they perfectly encapsulated one of the most exciting and visual World Cups there has been.
Deriving from the Spanish word "picante," which is used when referring to spicy peppers, Piquet was a jovial jalapeno complete with Mexican muzzy and trademark sombrero not to mention a pair of massive football boots which allowed him to perform no end of ball-juggling tricks.
Ciao: Italy, 1990
Everything about Italy ’90 was cool. The music, the players, the kits and in Ciao the tournament had a mascot that was unique too and one which would go on to define four weeks of football which for many re-invented the game in something of a watershed moment for the sport.
Until now mascots had usually been furry friends or unassuming animals which were easy to market and great when it comes to replica sales, but this stick figure looked more like a Rubik’s cube with attitude which sported the national colours and had a football for a head that 30 years on is still as identifiable as ever.
Footix: France, 1998
A blue and red rooster, Footix didn’t just become the focal point of France 1998 it also signalled a return to the World Cup for Les Blues after an absence of some eight years, depicting a new found optimism and belief which was just around the corner for the French game.
The charmless chicken would probably never have been heard of again had it not been for that all-conquering France team which included Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly and Thierry Henry; but their Gallic flair, combined with the scenes of celebration along the Seine as the hosts beat Brazil in the final, meant that Footix has become something of an icon for that golden generation.
Fuleco: Brazil, 2014
Apart from some occasional national stereotyping the World Cup mascot rarely brings its own message to a tournament; that was until 2014 when Brazil introduced us to Fuleco, a three-banded armadillo with attitude which is native to the country and categorized as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.
Not only looking good and representing the world’s biggest sporting event Fuleco’s other job was to raise awareness of an endangered species at a time when many were criticising Brazil’s decision to host the biggest show on earth. But FIFA scored something of an own goal when it was revealed that they did nothing to help when conservation charities in Brazil reached out for assistance in protecting this cute character’s natural habitat