You Can’t See Us Holding Hands
On Friday night West Ham travelled away to Brighton and Hove Albion where we suffered a dejecting 1-0 defeat. Despite playing the better football and having plenty of chances to equalise, we just couldn’t break through their 11 men and so the Hammers’ travelling faithful all returned home disappointed. None so much as the members of Pride Of Irons.
If you’re from abroad or just not particularly familiar with Brighton, it’s a town on the South Coast of England with a traditionally large population of LGBT people. Because of this, the Brighton and Hove Albion football team and their fans have, for some time, been targeted by other football fans with chants and songs about…well…being gay. Chants such as “We can see you holding hands” and “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” are on the softer end of the spectrum, but BHA have heard worse over the years.
During Friday’s match, those two chants made an appearance. Not really a surprise. Last season a few lads behind us tried to get one of the chants going. A few of us turned around, politely asked them to leave it out and it was over. Done. No aggro, no arguing and we carried on watching the game. Not that the game was particularly enjoyable (what is it about that team? Third loss on the bounce now!). This time though, it was different. It wasn’t a small group of lads. We were surrounded by a wall of noise both in front and behind us. From where we were standing, it felt like the whole away end was joining in.
Now despite what some might think looking at some of the comments on social media, our precious snowflake hearts didn’t melt. We didn’t run out crying or contact the stewards to grass anyone up. We looked at each other, rolled our eyes and shook our heads. Sure it was disappointing, but as LGBT people, we’ve ALL dealt with much worse. At that particular moment I was most concerned about the young lad who was with us. He’s approaching ten and as you can imagine is football mad. He told me on Friday that Issa Diop is his favourite defender because he’s a defender at school and Diop is his inspiration. He’s like all kids at that age who are mad about football and having the opportunity to go to a Friday night game at that age and stay up late was almost too much excitement to take. The reason I was concerned about him though is he has two Dads. Did he know what the chants meant? Was he okay? Looking at his expression I could tell he’d heard and he understood, but importantly he was okay. You see, kids from LGBT families aren’t sensitive snowflakes either.
After the match, one of our committee, Dave, Tweeted from our account:
That’s it. Disappointing. No one claimed to be the victim of a hate crime or anything extreme. Just the general feeling amongst our group. Whilst I know there are plenty of people out there just gagging to tell me exactly how I should feel about the chants – and many have – or to tell me that it’s “just banter”, let’s be clear; calling someone gay or insinuating that they are as a form of insult isn’t “just banter”. The intention is to insult and by using us as the insult, we’re made to feel we’re less than. If you’re reading this and you disagree, then have the courage of your convictions and go speak to a gay friend or family member. Tell them you think the song is banter and then convince them. After all, if it’s not a problem they won’t have an issue with it, right? Don’t have any gay friends to talk to about it? Maybe that’s something to think about.
What followed the tweet was something that Dave (ironically a straight guy) hadn’t anticipated. From the backlash, anyone would think we’d been the ones chanting something about a marginalised group.
I’ve omitted the usernames from the below as I’ve got no interest in digging anyone out or trying to stir trouble for them. I simply want to highlight the kind of stuff we’ve received.
“Are we allowed to still sing come on you irons? Making a mountain out of a molehill as it was aimed at 1 fan in particular who was attempting to give it to us.”
“Disappointing” is making a mountain out of a molehill? And I thought we were supposed to be the dramatic ones.
“I think it’s about time we had a group for overweight, middle aged, white, male fans, we are totally unrepresented & I’d like something to be offended by. Or perhaps I’ll just stop being stupid ”
Ah yes, the truly marginalised community.
“I’m only 27 and since I’ve left school you can no longer say “you’ve dropped your gay card”, “ is that your best mate or your boyfriend”. Actually you better not call yourself “pride of Irons” because Irons is slang for poofs. To think Jesus died for this fucking generation..”
I’m sure the Messiah would be horrified to find out that he gave his life and yet poor 27 year olds can’t go around mocking gay people.
“Do you know what, I find people that wear make up offensive, shall we ban all women from wearing make up because it offends me? Actually whilst we are at it there’s plenty of words I’d like banned too, “on point”, “vibes”, and that’s just for starters.”
Yeah, fair point. The two things are totally comparable.
“I do believe that political & rights activists groups should be kept out of football! Why does sexuality have to be constantly defined? You’re just humans attracted to other humans. You’re not special or hated… that taboo is long gone!”
Keep an eye out for our party manifesto.
“I think you’re right there mate. It was a molehill turned into a mountain by a group of our own fans, @PrideOfIrons – I’d say this group will cause trouble for all our chants as time goes on, such is the overly PC culture of such organisations.”
Yeah. We’re going after Bubbles next.
Honestly though. It’s a little ironic that we’re the snowflakes for being disappointed by a chant that makes us out to be less than, yet overreacting to our disappointment is totally reasonable.
I’ve met so many West Ham fans over the years and none have ever had an issue with me being gay. Not to my face anyway. I don’t think our fans are bigots and I’m confident the vast majority of those singing the chants aren’t homophobic. They probably had a few beers and got swept up in the moment. And that’s why we’re disappointed. Because we know what it means to be West Ham. We know that’s not what our club is about. “West Ham Family” remember? Let’s just hope next time we face Brighton, the rest of the family remember us.
It’s strange. We’re often told that we shouldn’t bring sexuality into football. Groups like Pride Of Irons are regularly criticised for speaking out and told we’d be respected and left alone if we’re quiet and don’t draw attention to ourselves. Yet when LGBT people are dragged into football’s spotlight through stuff like this, we’re still the villains. We literally can’t win. I guess the ultimate irony of this whole episode is that with the current attitudes towards us in football, you really can’t see us holding hands. Most of us wouldn’t dare.
~ Jim Dolan, Co-Chair