A football club’s mascot is more than just an exaggerated form of fancy dress. It is part of their identity, a playful way to excite the home fans and rile the away ones, and a match-day tradition in a sport where traditions are sacrosanct.
But few mascots have as interesting a story as Hartlepool United’s H’Angus the Monkey.
To explain, we must go back as far as the Napoleonic Wars when, legend has it, a French ship was wrecked on the coast of Hartlepool; an accident that killed all but one of the ship’s passengers.
That lucky survivor was a monkey.
Dressed in French uniform – possibly for the entertainment of the ship’s crew or possibly for the benefit of the story – the creature was captured and questioned.
Having never before seen a Frenchman, or apparently a monkey, the locals took it for a spy and sentenced it to death, hanging it from the mast of a boat.
How true the story is depends on who you speak to. But the term “monkey-hangers” – once used derogatively by those from neighbouring towns – is now embraced by many.
In fact, where Hartlepool’s local rivals Darlington used to greet them with terraced chants of “Who hung the monkey?”, the latter’s recent financial troubles and subsequent liquidation suggests United fans had the last laugh.
Playfully accepting this one-time insult, Hartlepool introduced H’Angus the Monkey as their mascot on Halloween 1999, in a first round FA Cup match against Millwall.
But in some ways this was just the start of the story, as the second incumbent of H’Angus’s kit, Stuart Drummond, caused controversy and hilarity in equal measure through a series of bizarre acts that saw him escorted from the pitch at both Scunthorpe United and Blackpool; in the first instance for making inappropriate movements behind a female steward and latterly for playing with an inflated doll.
So they had a crazy mascot. Some would say that is a prerequisite of the job. But when Drummond campaigned to be the town’s mayor in 2002, with the promise of free bananas for all school children – that is when things got really strange.
Running under his own name, the man who was once a monkey became the first directly elected mayor of Hartlepool; and even though he didn’t follow through with the banana pledge, he successfully stayed in office for ten years.
So the club at which Brian Clough began his managerial career in 1965 may be better known for monkeys and mayors.
But the truth is: every club is a collage of the crazy and the sublime. Currently bottom of League One, Hartlepool’s most recent result was an impressive 3-1 away win against Portsmouth, the team directly above them in the table.
So adrift are they from safety, some may say they need snookers to survive. But seven points from their last three away games – including an outstanding 3-2 win against Sheffield United – suggests all is not lost.
With just under half the season still to go, and with recently appointed First Team Coach John Hughes making his mark, there remains hope, however slim, that the team with such an interesting history might just add 2013 survival to those annals.
images: © yaffamedia