On Saturday 19th January 2022, ahead of West Ham United’s 12:30pm kick off against Newcastle United, members of Pride Of Irons were joined by pop icon Holly Johnson and the UK’s most prominent human rights activist Peter Tatchell to protest for better rules around who can buy into English football.
The peaceful protest took place outside the London Stadium as the Newcastle team coaches arrived with Holly, Peter and Pride Of Irons co-chairs Jim Dolan and Jo Bailey making statements to the media after.
Speaking to the cameras, Jim made it clear that although Newcastle’s de facto acquisition by the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince was the trigger point, this was not an anti-Newcastle protest.
It doesn’t matter who purchases a football club, its heart and soul will always belong to the fans. They were there before new owners arrived and they will be there long after. This is about the footballing authorities who have allowed this purchase to happen. Newcastle fans – like fans up and down the country – are salt of the earth, working class people who love their club through thick and thin. During Mike Ashley’s reign, they proved it’s possible to both fundamentally disagree with what your owners stand for and continue to support your club.
During LGBT History Month – and on what would have been first out gay player Justin Fashanu’s 61st birthday – we wanted to make a stand and call on the football authorities to follow the recommendations of the Fan-Led Review and overhaul the rules around club ownership.
The Saudi Crown Prince is now a stakeholder in English football whilst also overseeing a regime where women’s rights are abysmal and LGBT people can be imprisoned, subject to capital punishment or even put to death simply for who they love. And for LGBT women the situation they find themselves in is without hope. Clearly this is not someone whose values are aligned with the values English football purports to stand for.
Jo was keen to draw parallels with the situation women in Afghanistan now find themselves in – suddenly facing similar restrictions on their freedoms as those in Saudi Arabia since the Taliban took power. Women who now cannot participate in sport without punishment.
As such; Pride Of Irons wants to highlight the plight of the Afghan Women’s Development football team who had to flee the country. Please lend them your support by donating here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Prideofirons.
Jo and Jim both also spoke of gay Saudi Arabian social media personality, Suhail Al Jameel. Sentenced to three years in prison and 800 lashes simply for who he is. Lend your voice to the campaign to free him by following and supporting the #FreeSuhail movement on social media.
Speaking of the Saudi Arabian regime of Newcastle United, Peter Tatchell said it “oppresses women, LGBT+ people and religious and ethnic minorities. This is not a regime that has any legitimate place in English football.”
Holly Johnson added “We have significant concerns alongside human rights organisations such as Amnesty International about the treatment of LGBT people and women in Saudi Arabia and other countries worldwide. English football should not be subject to investment from regimes that don’t share our values around equality and human rights. And English football should not be used for sports washing.”
Unfortunately Peter was unable to join us for the game, however Holly headed into the stadium to watch what was, unfortunately, not the result we were after. However he had fun mixing with Hammers fans who made him feel more than welcome. Big shout out to Jacqui Hughes, Marie Parkes and Rob Banks!
After the match Holly stopped in the West Ham United Supporters Club at the Last Drop for a chat with the Pride of Irons crew and was kind enough to pose for some selfies with fans.
Pride Of Irons would like to thank Holly, Peter and everyone who turned up to support us. As well as those showing their support throughout online. We hope the media coverage will ensure the ‘powers that be’ listen up and make the changes sorely needed to make sure we don’t face this situation again.