Up the Hartlepool FC!

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I figured it was getting on towards the start of football season, so I should do something that includes football. So, who’s a Hartlepool supporter? Anyone? Whatcha mean you’ve never heard of Hartlepool......

Aw crud. Did I get my two footballs confused again? Oh....I did, didn’t I.... poo. I should specify that it’s getting on towards the start of American football season. That’s not to be confused with actual football. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like American football. (Skol Vikings!). But it’s too....I don’t know. I think I watch it mostly because it’s on. If I had to choose between football and American football, I’m watching football. (and by football, I’m, of course, talking about soccer).

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How American football got it’s name is not the subject of todays post. Nor am I going to talk about my love of football. (go Wolverhampton!) I might talk a bit about how rugby is better than American football, and if you don’t believe me, check out a match between the Springboks and All Blacks.

I’m not even going to talk about soccer. But I will mention football. And it’s all because of that little monkey up there.

His name is H’Angus, and he’s the mascot of Hartlepool United F.C. Hartlepool is a League Two team, which means they play in the fourth of eight tiers in the English Football League. Most of the teams American have heard of, like Manchester United or Liverpool are in the first tier called the English Premiere League. Any team in the EFL can theoretically earn their way into the Premier League. All they have to do is win their tier, (or come in second), and they’ll advance to the next level up.

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But it isn’t that easy. You see, there are a total of 384 teams total in the EPL. It’s all very complicated, and it’s all besides the point. Although I do encourage people to get into the EPL and watch any and all matches they can, like I said earlier, this post isn’t about football.

Allow me to get back to H’Angus and Hartlepool United F.C.

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Hartlepool is generally shortened by it’s fans to just Pool. They also have another unofficial name; The Monkey Hangers. Yes, their supporters call them the monkey hangers. Maybe you noticed how H’Angus was a portmanteau of Hang and Angus? (oh good grief.....Google it if you don’t know the definition...)

Those of you familiar with Otters Oddities now know I have a good tale up my sleeve. And if you aren’t familiar with my Oddities, how the heck did you stumble on this obscure blog? Welcome, but how’d you find me?

As we are all aware, the world isn’t always a nice place to live, and people are dicks. That’s not anything new. It’s been like that always. And Hartlepool is a good example of how bad it can get.

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The incident I’m talking about happened back in the Napoleonic Wars. The actual date of the incident has been lost to history, but it happened sometime between 1803 and 1815.

Legend has it that off the coast of England near Hartlepool, ships from the French fleet battled with the ships of the Royal Navy. During the battle, one of the French ships was sunk with the loss of all hands, except for one. This sole survivor swam ashore at Hartlepool and was captured by the locals.

Now, the English hated the French back then. Hell, everyone hated the French back then. Even the USA only dealt with Napoleon because of the deal he gave us on Louisiana. Needless to say, you wouldn’t have wanted to be the French sailor that washed ashore in Hartlepool.

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The citizens took it upon themselves to question the survivor. Due to the language barrier, they couldn’t communicate, though. Thinking the French sailor was only trying to deceive the questioners, they came to the conclusion that he was a spy. And there was only one method for dealing with spies back then. And that method involved a rope and a high tree branch.

As these things go, the hanging was fairly uneventful. Rope went around the neck. Other end went over the branch. Victim struggled. Boioioioing! One dead French Sailor.

And here is where the story take it’s twist. I mean, there’s a reason it’s H’Angus the monkey, right?

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According to the local legend, the sailor that survived the sinking was the ships monkey. Having never seen a monkey before, the residents of Hartlepool never realized they were interrogating an animal and not a human. A short, hairy human, but a human nonetheless. And when he refused to answer their questions, they did the next logical thing which was to execute the monkey. I never said early 19th century people were smart.

So, now Hartlepool has H’Angus the monkey. And they’re known as the monkey hangers.

But is it true? Or is it just a story told in pubs?

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According to some historians, the French vessel involved was the Chasse Maree. The only problem I can see with this is, chasse maree is a type of ship, not the name of a ship. Chasse marees’ were primarily used by fishermen to ferry the catch from the ship back to port to ensure freshness. During times of war they were used as dispatch ships that the fleet commander would use to communicate with other ships.

But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that the story is true. There is a very good possibility that the story is actually true, but was changed to protect the people involved. It should be noted that ships of the line, both French and English, employed young boys. They would be brought on as cabin boys, but in times of combat, they would serve as haulers of gun powder for the canons. Powder was typically stored in small spaces that were hard to get to. So using small boys to get the powder made sense. Plus they were fast and nimble and could wind there way around in the confusion that was combat.

And in that role, they were called ‘Powder Monkeys’. So it’s entirely possible that the monkey the citizens of Hartlepool hung was actually a powder monkey. A young boy who survived a wreck to only be hung as a spy.

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I can’t say with certainty that this story is true. But there’s something about it that rings true to me. While I doubt an actual monkey was hung, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that they hung a child. Like I said, the English hated the French. Really hated them. Like, hundreds of years of enmity between them. And considering the English would regularly make their own 8 to 10 year old children start working full time, they would have seen a powder monkey as just another French sailor and not as a child. Since any French presence in the seas off Hartlepool would prevent the people from fishing, it’s easy to believe they would take their vengeance out on an enemy sailor.

On a more light-hearted note, in 2002 the man who was H’Angus the monkey, Stuart Drummond, decided to use his notoriety as H’Angus to run for mayor of Hartlepool. Hartlepool had never had a mayor before, so Drummond figured ‘what the hell’. He won. He was reelected twice and held the position until it was abolished in 2013. He was the first person in Briton to win three terms as mayor of any town.