“Mad about Franky”

When Franky the Dinosaur turns back into Martin Michler the man, he first needs a bit of help to free himself from his orange-and-purple costume made of plastic, foam rubber and denim.

The hour as a dinosaur has left its mark. The red-and-white headband worn by Martin Michler under the Franky costume to keep the sweat away from his eyes can be wrung out. His hair is stuck to his head; his olive-green t-shirt is soaked through. He’s completely exhausted. It’s a good 26 degrees out there this Sunday. It feels like 50 degrees inside the costume. But Martin Michler has signed up for this voluntarily. From Monday to Friday, he works in the LCCneo Project Management Office, dealing with financial and scheduling risks for the new cargo centre being built by his employer, Lufthansa Cargo. At the weekend, when it’s game day, he larks around in front of the spectators in the main stand in his role as the Frankfurt Universe mascot.

Universe is the successor to the legendary Frankfurt Galaxy, which used to play in front of up to 40,000 fans at the Commerzbank-Arena in the NFL Europe (the European offshoot of the National Football League [NFL]). Play ceased in 2007 when the US financiers cut off funding overnight. While the Galaxy team would be flown to Barcelona, Glasgow or Amsterdam, the Universe players travel by bus to Kirchdorf in Lower Bavaria, Holzgerlingen in the district of Böblingen or Ravensburg, near Lake Constance. This is because Universe “only” now plays in the GFL2, the 2nd German Football League, although it has already been promoted three times since its establishment.

However, the kit still looks like that of Galaxy and the ticket tent is the one from the professional side, as are the bouncy castle for children, and, most importantly of all, the costume for Franky the Dinosaur. Franky was the mascot back in the time of the famous Galaxys as well, when Martin Michler was still a fan and season ticket holder, crossing his fingers in the stand and dreaming of assuming the role of mascot some day. When he then joined in setting up the successor to Galaxy, along with another good 500 true fans, at the end of 2007, he was “mad keen to be Franky”.

Franky was and is an institution. He’s a jester, clown and entertainer; he leads the fans in song from the stand, dances with young people on the running track, poses with children as their parents take snaps, joins in for a selfie with a security man and leads the team on to the field to the roars of the 1,250 spectators. Franky’s shirt bears the number 12 on the back. “Franky”, says Martin Michler, “is the personified twelfth member of the team”. He belongs to the team, which has eleven players, just like soccer. As he is driven into the stadium this Sunday on the back of a pick-up painted in orange and purple (what else?) for the local derby against the Frankfurt Pirates, the place goes wild. Franky the mascot is as much a part of game day as the cheerleaders. Spectators don’t know who is behind Franky. They don’t want to know and shouldn’t know either. Franky is Franky, a dinosaur, the mascot. Martin Michler wouldn’t have “outed” himself publicly either if his “reign” as Franky hadn’t essentially come to an end anyway. In 2012, Michler stopped being the mascot after four years. He was elected Assistant Treasurer of the Board of AFC Universe Frankfurt at that time, while still helping to coordinate the more than 70 volunteers who provide the catering at the home games, sell merchandise and man the tills. He does a bit of everything and is therefore fully stretched.

He now only takes on the mantle of Franky if the worst comes to the worst and somebody needs to step in. Martin Michler isn’t telling who is taking on the mascot’s role at the moment. He finds it “fascinating to play someone without being recognised”. And this is how it should remain. When asked if he had ever thought of donning the helmet and shoulder pads himself, he answers without hesitation: “I never considered it. I’ve always been a fan.”