The problem being a West Ham fan who lives in Kingston is when you need to be at the London Stadium for 8.00am on a Saturday morning.
Luckily I have a friend who lives close by who I inexplicably managed to convince to also roll out of bed at 5.30am although I quickly got the impression she had started to regret her commitment:
But as we trekked South West to East under the already hot morning sun we perked up with tea and cereal bars, and in the end, of course, it was all worth it.
Pride is always the biggest event in the social calendar for Pride of Irons. It’s a chance for us to come out en masse in our claret and blue rainbows and sing and dance and march and be, well, proud.
This was the second year we’d hired a bus for the parade, and as I had been unable to attend last year I was particularly thrilled when it pulled up outside the Stadium, ready to collect us early birds.
We skidded (joke, we slowly trawled) our way to our parade spot after a lovely, happy drive through London, waving our flags at slightly bemused passers-by, but getting a few crossed arms and cheers of support in return for our efforts.
With the parade technically not starting until early afternoon we had plenty of time to decorate the bus, have a dance, exchange some friendly barbs with the two other London clubs we were marching nearby with (let’s call them Schmarsenal and Schmurs) and wait for everyone else to turn up. And turn up they did.
The first time Pride of Irons marched at Pride was in 2015 with Pride in Football and there was about seven of us there – fast forward to 2019 and we had a massively diverse group of over 50 of our members join us. It’s always incredibly humbling to have such a stark reminder of how much we’ve achieved and how much we’ve grown over the past 5 years. Pride for us is always a celebration of that.
Anyway, back to the day. Finally the crowd in front of us starting moving and we were off. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of what marching at Pride is like; the streets are absolutely rammed with people of all ages, ethnicities, genders and sexuality, all united in their love of an opportunity to have a party, watch a parade and show their support for the LGBTQ community.
Being West Ham we like to standout as much as possible and what better way to do that than with our very own Hammerhead and Pride of Irons’ favourite drag queen Flora Tub.
They worked the crowd tirelessly the whole route, no mean feat in the middle of summer. We handed out stickers, waved our flags, blew our whistles and started countless renditions of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and Come on You Irons. Every time we went past a hidden Hammer in the crowd we were greeted with a cry of approval, a high five, crossed arms and in some special cases a nice hug. In fact I met one lady on the way round who used to play for West Ham Ladies! Give us a shout if you’re reading this.
One of the reasons our marches at Pride are so successful is down to the incredible relationship we have with West Ham. Their support of us as a group is a true reflection of the values the Club hold and promote, and this is no better reflected than at Pride. In fact this year they paid for the bus hire for which we are incredibly grateful, and that shows their real commitment to our group and our cause. That and the fact that West Ham employees marched with us. They weren’t working, they just care.
I’ve said this before, but I think it’s always worth remembering. Despite the dancing, the singing, the drinking of cans of pink gin before 11am Pride is not just a party, it is still a protest. In fact, something one of our lovely members told me as we were walking through Piccadilly Circus really reminded me of this. Michael (our lovely member) blowing bubbles next to me with his face painted claret and blue said, “This makes me really emotional. Seeing so many people out here, being open, living openly. It’s a contrast to how so many people have to live their lives. 10 years ago I couldn’t have marched here. It’s so important that I now can.”
God it made me so proud when Michael said that. It reflected for me why we exist as a group. People should be able to live their lives openly, and many people still can’t. We can’t stop fighting.
But whilst we’re fighting there’s no reason why we can’t also have a party. COYI!