Along the coast of the North Sea, the cool winds are blowing. The new football season is underway. Which means, of course, that it’s time to hang the Monkey O.
In former times, mid war an’ strife,
The French invasion threatened life,
An’ all was armed to the knife,
The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!
It’s true. During the Napoleonic Wars, near the small English fishing town of Hartlepool, the remains of a French warship washed up on the beach. Amid the crushed timbers and tattered sails there was one survivor: a monkey, dressed in a French uniform. Since it was clear he was an enemy combatant, the locals conducted an impromptu trial. The monkey refused to answer their questions. So he was found guilty of espionage, and promptly hung.
They tortor’d the Monkey till loud he did squeak
Says yen, “That’s French,” says another “it’s Greek”
For the Fishermen had got drunky, O!
Today, when you visit Hartlepool, you can still see a part of the mast that served as the gallows, preserved down at the pier. There is a Hartlepool Monkey Monument at the Hartlepool Headlands. And if you pick up the local newspaper, you can read all the news about the local football club, The Hartlepool Monkey-Hangers.
“He’s all ower hair!” sum chap did cry,
“E’en up te summic cute an’ sly”
Wiv a cod’s head then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the Monkey O!
Some Hartlepudlians aren’t too happy about the racially charged name. Or about their team mascot, H’angus the Monkey, a sort of football version of Curious George. H’Angus represents the team all over England, and has been famously tossed out of several stadiums for misbehavior. He has been portrayed by numerous people, most notably Hartlepool’s former mayor. Unfortunately, H’Angus hasn’t brought much luck to the team recently; the Monkey-Hangers sit next-to-last in England’s 4th division, in danger of being relegated to the 5th division, where semi-professionals play. One might conclude the whole monkey thing may be more curse than blessing.
But traditions die hard in England, particularly when Napoleon is involved. And if you’re a small town, wedged on a bitter coast between big-time football towns Newcastle and Middlesbrough, you have to get behind the team. This Saturday is game day. Hartlepool’s loyal fans will meet down at the Corner Flag pub. They’ll hoist a pint or two. Make their way over to Victoria Park. Cheer wildly as H’Angus runs out in his blue-and-white kit. And, as the match whistle blows, the supporters will begin to sing…
The Fishermen wi’ courage high,
Seized on the Monkey for a spy,
“Hang him” says yen, says another, “He’ll die!”
They did, and they hung the Monkey O!