(flush with cash, Arsenal have no need to charge children for the privilege of being touched by Robert Pires)

Hopefully Larry Lucchino won’t get wind of this or the batboy gig at Fenway might go to the highest bidder. From the Observer’s Denis Campbell and Nial Briggs.

It is the dream of every young football fan: to lead your heroes out onto the pitch while holding the captain’s hand, join in the players’ pre-match kickabout and experience the applause of a massive crowd.

Sadly, though, most children wanting to enjoy the thrill of being a matchday mascot at a Premier League club this season will have to pay for participating in one of the game’s time-honoured rituals. An Observer survey of the mascot policy at England’s top 20 clubs has revealed that the majority charge for the honour, with the dearest, Everton, demanding an astonishing £3,525 for the privilege at games against arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester United.

Of those that charge, Charlton Athletic is the cheapest, from £60 for junior club members to £250 for others, while the £176.25 at Chelsea is relatively good value, given the prices charged elsewhere and their status as the reigning Premiership champions. Tottenham Hotspur maximise their revenue by having 11 mascots for each home game, one to escort every player, who pay from £195 to £295, depending on the quality of the opposition. Even lowly Fulham charge up to £995, while at newly promoted Watford it is £195 to £250. Traditionally clubs selected youngsters at random to act as the mascot for a match without payment as a goodwill gesture. But in recent years, as football’s popularity has boomed, charging has become more widespread and prices have crept up.

I’m not aware of QPR’s policy on this matter, but give the grim state of affairs at Loftus Road, they could be excused for asking potential mascots to supply their parents’ checking account numbers and sort codes. Rangers saw 2 points go down the toilet at Preston North End yesterday when Paul McKenna’s 86th minute header earned a 1-1 draw for the home side.

Theo Walcott played not a minute during the World Cup, but he proved to be a key figure in Arsenal’s first league match at Emirates Stadium, which finished in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa. Walcott’s feed to Gilberto Silva (above) 6 minutes from time provided the Gunners with the equalizer. Earlier, Walcott had dispossessed Steven Davis and neatly set up Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Eboue for a goal denied by the woodwork.

Liverpool at Sheffield United was the early morning match on Setanta U.S., and the Blades were victimized by referee Rob Styles (a name all too familiar to QPR supporters) hallucinating that Steven Gerrard was brought down by Chris Morgan. Robbie Fowler converted the resulting penalty, leaving Neil Warnock to kick of his 2006-07 campaign to see if he match Ozzie Guillen for outbursts worthy of fine or censure.

The agents for noted rocket scientist Wayne Rooney are threatening the Football Association that their client will refuse to cooperate with England sponsors if the F.A. can’t see fit to overturn Rooney’s 3 match ban after his sending off against Porto earlier this month. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the sponsors, actually.

Incredibly, Real Salt Lake have won four in a row, the latest being Saturday’s 3-1 win over a pretty good Houston side. I was trying to think of some kind of analogy between the MLS’ Western Conference and baseball’s National League, but it just isn’t gonna work. For one thing, there’s no owner in the NL that deserves a beating nearly as much as Dave Checketts. And that, my friends, is as close as I will come anytime soon to saying something nice about Jeffrey Loria.