What we have become

My original home town, Middlesbrough, built a couple of hundred years ago from nothing and peopled by outsiders from all over the world who came to work, has been home to many different cultures for as long as I can remember.

Over recent years, somehow the football club attracted a fan from London, Yusuf Jama, who very quickly became a super-fan. He follows his team everywhere and is so infectiously enthusiastic – he loves MFC and is unerringly positive with a huge smile. God knows how much he spends every year on travel, tickets etc. but he’s a brilliant ambassador for our club and area. In short, to coin an oft-used local phrase, he’s “Boro mad”.

Recently the club, by now well-aware of Yusuf and the affection in which he is held by other fans, approached him and asked would he like to be a semi-regular interviewer of our players? Would he not! He was obviously delighted and it was announced last week.

Soon afterwards, some people who I can only describe as racist trolls from a football message board – so called Boro fans – began posting vile insinuations. “Why was he getting the job?”, “It’s PC box-ticking” – and they were very much their milder thoughts. I won’t share the others here but I’m sure you can imagine. I know his skin colour was mentioned, and these clearly aren’t the kind of people to hold back on letting everyone know their ‘thoughts’, though that’s too generous a word.

The upshot is the lad heard about it, read it and is heartbroken, with the result that he has now decided not to take the position; preferring instead to withdraw to look after his own mental health and wellbeing.

Those arrogant, ignorant scumbags do not represent me or my town.

Poetry is a grossly insufficient tool to address things like this but right now it’s all I have to hand…


 What We Have Become
 Meet me by moonlight
 on the sailors’ trod,
 that path made black
 by what filled the bellies
 of our mams and dads.
 We’ll walk on the bones
 of riveters’ catchers,
 fitters and their mates
 who built a world’s bridges
 but themselves couldn’t escape
 so instead slung them ‘cross rivers
 and stuck out their hands
 to bid welcome to strangers.
 Take the black path past
 the BOS plant, Beam Mill,
 where nightshift ghosts
 play cards in the messroom,
 their pennies spotwelded
 to the rust-holed table. 
 Then back to the docks
 still laden with ships,
 sailors pounding a trod
 to the Captain Cook
 for tabs and a skinful 
 and a roll in the sawdust.
 Meet me under moonlight
 and we’ll scare ourselves dumb
 not with talltales of yore
 but by what we have become. 

Harry Gallagher

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