22 Jun 2021

Morris West retires after decades as Taranaki Bulls Mascot 'Ferdinand'

8:22 pm on 22 June 2021

After more than 20 years and 132 games as Ferdie, the beloved mascot of the Taranaki Bulls, the man inside the costume is signing off to widespread applause.

Taranaki Rugby Football Union boss Laurence Corlett and retiring Ferdie mascot Morris West.

Taranaki Rugby Football Union boss Laurence Corlett and retiring Ferdie mascot Morris West. Photo: RNZ/Robin Martin

When the Taranaki Bulls run out for their first match of the provincial rugby championship season in August there will be one glaring omission on the team sheet.

The man behind the Ferdinand the Bull mask is hanging up his horns after more than 20 years as the team's mascot.

A piping designer by day, Morris West had history as a sports mascot when he took on the Taranaki job in 1999, having already suited up for the region's basketball side before tackling the audition.

Morris remembered being up against a couple of 20-somethings who had not counted on the amateur thespian's enthusiasm.

"I just went straight into crazy mode, whereas the other ones... you know people either tend to go into their shell when they are given the chance to be an idiot or they go overboard. Unbelievably I go overboard."

Morris also promised to travel to away matches in the North Island at his own expense.

"I went to every game anyhow. Despite the fact that my background is soccer I'd still go to every game because I've always believed if you're going to watch something watch it live, and I still believe that.

Morris West as Ferdie, among his fans.

Morris West as Ferdie, among his fans. Photo: Supplied/ Morris West

"It's just that for the past 20 years I haven't had a chance to watch a Taranaki game live."

Yes, that's right, the ability to see is not one of the 6kg latex mask's strong points - but it does have an upside.

"On a cold winter's night it's lovely and warm. It's beautiful. But this thing that people say - that you must lose weight doing it: 'You must lose a few kilos?' Nah, it doesn't happen."

Morris, who turns 65 on the day of the new season kickoff, admits he has tried to hang up the horns before, but insisted this time was for real.

In his time playing Ferdie he has rubbed shoulders with numerous All Blacks - including the Barrett brothers - and enjoyed three Ranfurly Shield reigns, but his favourite part of the role has been interacting with the fans.

"I think the biggest thing I take out of it is the memory of watching kids' faces light up, especially when you draw a silly little picture on their hand or write the autograph of Ferdie.

"I also loved going out to the hospice and the hospital with Peter Burke [the late former player and administrator]. The first thing he did, when he was asked to go out and do his jobs looking after the Shield, was ring up and ask if Ferdie was available to come with him."

Taranaki Rugby boss and former professional Laurence Corlett said Morris' contribution could not be underestimated.

"Always there on the sidelines really engaged with the children, always going up and talking to them making sure they feel really a part of the whole experience of watching and supporting Taranaki rugby.

"He's been a great servant to the game and someone who's [been] to 132 games, that's a lot of rugby to have watch and been involved with and we've been very lucky to have him."

Morris West has immortalised his tribute to Ferdie the Bull on his arm in ink.

Morris West has immortalised his tribute to Ferdie the Bull on his arm in ink. Photo: Supplied/ Morris West

Corlett reckoned Morris left big shoes to fill.

"He's pretty irreplaceable, Morris, so it's not going to be an easy task to do but I'm sure there'll be someone out there that will be really keen and excited to be involved with Ferdie."

People in New Plymouth RNZ spoke to about Morris' time as Ferdie had only good things to say.

Alan was a fan: "He's been exceptional. He's been a part of Taranaki rugby."

Kevin too: "He's been marvellous hasn't he."

Robbie Tubby reckoned the children loved him.

"I think he's done really well. The kids love it. To see him running around with a thing like that... it's been great."

Morris West's Ferdie the Bull has been high energy and unstoppable.

Morris West's Ferdie the Bull has been high energy and unstoppable. Photo: Supplied/ Morris West

Not that there were many takers for the job.

Rohan was keen though: "Do you wear a costume? Oh yeah, I could do that - the glamour!"

Jill reckoned she had missed her opportunity: "No, because I'm too old and unfit for all that running about."

Mika was considering it, and reckoned she could bring something new to the role. "Potentially. Yeah, well I mean you remain anonymous at all times don't you, so there's not a hell of a lot of pressure.

"I could bring a bit of vibrancy, maybe jump around the pitch a bit more. Do a couple of cartwheels or something like that."

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