Back in the 1980’s I was a young seafarer. The habit of seafarers is generally to frequent bars that have been recommended by other seafarers. These bars and clubs were places where people of all nationalities could meet and have a good time. I visited many of them both in the UK and abroad. When drink began to flow, conversations would start. Generally the first question would be ‘where are you from?’ I would say, Middlesbrough and the person I was speaking to would often smile and reply ‘Club Bongo’. The Bongo had an international reputation amongst the seafaring community. Of course the Bongo was not just a club for seafarers, it was for everyone and was woven into the fabric of Middlesbrough for over 50 years.
I walked out of Middlesbrough railway station today and noticed that the club’s neon sign is looking in very poor condition. I hope that I am wrong but I think it is generally accepted that the club may never reopen.
The Bongo is an important part of Middlesbrough’s social and multicultural history, that alone makes this unique neon sign worth saving and preserving. It could be restored, protected and left in situ as something far more interesting and site-specific than a generic heritage plaque. If this is not possible then it should be removed and placed in a public space where it would serve to remind us all that the Club Bongo International and its founder, Abdillahi Warsama, played an important part in the social history of modern Middlesbrough.
Read the history of Club Bongo International here