6th September marked the kick off of Call It Out 2019 – a Europe-Wide convention addressing LGBT-phobia in football and it was co-hosted at the London Stadium by West Ham United and yours truly, Pride Of Irons!
Call It Out is an annual event coordinated by Pride In Football (PiF) – the UK affiliation for LGBT Football Fan Groups – and 2019 marked the third year of the event. What made it even more special is that PiF were in partnership with Football Supporters Europe (FSE) to combine the event with their very own Project Out!; an EU-funded initiative to fight homophobia and empower LGBT+ stakeholders in football.
With so many stakeholders, increased reach and more participation than ever before, the event needed a venue to do the occasion justice. Enter West Ham United and Pride Of Irons. Our partnership has been recognised as one of the best between a football club and its LGBT fan group and so it was a natural choice to hand us the responsibility of co-hosting the event.
Now by this point you’re probably thinking we’re done with the names of organisations involved, but you’d be wrong. Another party came to the table to make this event happen and that’s the Attitude Magazine Foundation who work to enable organisations to make positive change for the LGBT community. Their help in coordinating the event cannot be underestimated and we offer them so much thanks and appreciation.
Friday 6th September kicked the event off with welcome drinks sponsored by Attitude. With so many attendees travelling not just across the country, but across Europe to attend, the evening gave attendees of the conference a chance to meet, chat and get to know each other. The wine and conversation flowed and there was plenty of chat about shared experience, challenges and lessons to be shared. Speeches from PiF Chair Di Cunningham, publisher and owner of Attitude Darren Styles, Sky Sports’ very own Mark McAdam and our co-chair Jim Dolan.
A few more glasses were drained before the close of the evening and the merriment was taken to the road for the more energetic attendees while the rest of us headed home for a good night’s sleep ahead of the main event the next day.
7th September was the day of the main event – the full conference of Call It Out 2019 and the launch of Project Out! The days kicked off with a presentation from Rory Magrath, PhD (Senior Lecturer and Football Studies & Business Course Leader at Solent University, Southampton) who launched the first ever study speaking exclusively to LGBT football fans. He gave an overview of his findings to date which were extremely interesting. Keep an eye on his Twitter for when the finished paper is released.
The morning and afternoon workshop sessions were broken up by networking sessions and stadium tours during which fans from other clubs showed a begrudging admiration for the London Stadium, though naturally always finished with “But I wouldn’t want my team to play here every week”.
The workshops were conducted by LGBT fans, for LGBT fans and included advice on how to run sustainable LGBT groups, presented by Ian from Newcastle’s United with Pride, discussion around Managing Social Media and Trolling by Pride Of Irons’ Jim Dolan and a discussion on Toxic International Competition Hosts by Joe White of Gay Gooners.
With PiF now boasting 50 LGBT football groups (in fact the 50th – Proud Rovers – was kicked off on the day), it’s so very important for us to not only share good practice and lessons learnt, but to try to drive for all of our clubs to work with us to make football a more inclusive place, not just for LGBT fans, but for everyone!
Alongside all of this action, Project Out! was going on with representatives from all over Europe speaking about fan/club interaction and giving recommendations around standards that could make up part of a handbook for clubs and governing bodies. West Ham and Pride Of Irons were represented by Supporter Services Manager Jake Heath and POI Treasurer Al Holmes who impressed everyone with the close relationship we have.
The end to a truly fantastic day was provided by a veritable smorgasbord of celebrity guests in a round table discussion chaired very kindly by Mark McAdam who stepped in at the last minute to cover Jess Creighton who was unable to make it.
Mark was joined by actor Charlie Condou, journalist Nicky Bandini, wrestler Brad Slayer, Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo and our very own Alisha Lehmann.
Charlie spoke of the changing environment in football and how he feels as a parent taking his young children to games. Nicky spoke of her career in football journalism and the difference in atmosphere in stadiums and league across the continent. Brad had a very positive message about the acceptance of LGBT people in wrestling and Anthony told us his story of being an ally and officiating his sister’s wedding to her wife. Alisha spoke of the difference in women’s football and how different attitudes are.
As the weekend drew to a close, many selfies were taken, numbers exchanges and promises made to help lift each other up and make changes for the good of football. We may be rivals on the pitch, but outside of match days we are a community that supports each other.
Some fans departed for the long journey home while others strolled over to Hackney Wick together to watch the England game. The day was over but the work continues. Football is changing for the better and we’ll keep doing what we do until we’ve succeeded in making football accessible to everyone – as it should be.
To see more from the day, head over to the West Ham website.
If you don’t support West Ham and you’re wondering if your club has a group, you can find the full list here.
Maybe your club doesn’t have a group? If so, get in touch with Pride In Football who can help you start one.