You Can’t See Us Holding Hands

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:

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 19.27.26That’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

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Pride in London 2018 – A quick thank you.

We will no doubt follow this up with multiple blog posts from those who attended, but for now a quick thank you for all involved.

In the summer of 2015, Pride Of Irons attended our first ever Pride In London. To my recollection, there were seven of us. A year later and we had around fifteen. Last year we had 25 and our club mascot, Hammerhead. The first football mascot to attend Pride I hasten to add. This year? Sixty!

Now it’s true we had wristbands for 90, but given England were playing in a World Cup semifinal, a two-thirds attendance is mightily impressive. Add to that Hammerhead and a ruddy open top, West Ham-branded route master bus and the progress is hard to comprehend.

A few times yesterday I climbed the stairs to the top deck to see the mass of West Ham shirts, the smiles and the rainbow and glitter-painted faces and it brought a lump to my throat.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for giving up your time to come and show your colours and your pride.

In particular we’d like to thank;

Our final shout out goes to Kenzie – the young man who captured the hearts of everyone who saw him – and his two proud Dads Ian and Andy who encourage the little guy to be himself. Kenzie is the little boy so many of us wish we could have been.

A final request please, if you took any pictures of yesterday’s events, we’d really appreciate copies. You can share them with us by emailing them to info@prideofirons.com or tweet us @prideofirons.

Thanks once again and we hope to see you soon.

Pride Parade Announcement

Finally news from the most fabulous West Ham march of the year…

After months of preparation behind the scenes, we’re pleased to now be able to announce our plans for the Pride Parade in London on Saturday 7th July.

We’ve gone one step better than last year, and as well as having Hammerhead leading us through London we’ll be having a West Ham themed open-top bus to promote Pride of Irons and the club. So we’ll have space for more members, and we’ll also be able to transport members who aren’t able to walk the full length of the parade. Huge thanks to the people at West Ham United for helping us with this, some of whom will be joining us on the day. We are already looking forward to the summer event and making it POI’s biggest pride yet.

        

We want to see as many members at the event as we can and we’ll be writing to you again next month with more details on how to join us on the parade. But in the meantime make sure you mark the date in your calendar – Saturday 7th July.

Emergency SAB meeting

Jim & Al attended an Emergency Supporters Advisory Board meeting at the stadium last night, following the events at the Burnley game. You’ll be able to read more about this through various channels over the next few days, but the clear message is that regardless of anything else going on, everyone needs to get behind the players as we go into some critical games at the London Stadium.

BHF Quiz night

Thanks to all our members who came along to our quiz night last week. It was a great fun night out and raised over £300 for Pride of Irons and the British Heart Foundation.

COYI

Hello! It’s been a while but we’re back!

Now this update is going to be a wordy one, but we hope you all find the information useful.

Last night (28th February 2018) two members of your committee braved the treacherous weather to attend West Ham’s Supporters’ Advisory Board. A lot was discussed and four pages of notes are summarised below.

It was an interesting set up and a good opportunity to hear the views of other fan representatives and groups, as well as a chance to speak with the people behind the scenes at the club.

We also have some information around our Quiz on the 22nd March (our second this year).

Now, let’s get on with it…

Supporters Advisory Board Update

Shelving
Apparently this is something people have had complaints about. There hasn’t been enough shelving in the stands for people to put drinks on etc. The club has had additional shelving in the North, South and West Stands and the East will soon be complete too. The club have spent over £40,000.00 to implement this.

Memorabilia
The club are looking into ideas around how to showcase club memorabilia. They are keen to do something meaningful with the 1000+ items, which includes the World Cup medals amongst other historic football souvenirs. £60,000.00 a year is spent by the club to house them privately at local antiques dealer Christies and historically the club museum housed them, but this was rarely visited and they are looking at more practical ways to display them. One possibility is in the stadium for tours and currently the world cup medals are able to be viewed in the club shop, but the club are looking for more ideas.

Champions Place
The second phase was completed in October with 1,200 new stones laid. Phase 3 will start soon – dates to be confirmed.
The club are looking into the cleaning of existing stones due to complaints. They are already jet-washed before every game, however it seems that dirt is getting stuck in the writing leaving some to believe the writing is fading. The club have given assurances that the stones wording is not damaged and are looking into longterm maintenance options to keep the stones looking their best.

Diversity & Inclusion
The club have applied to the FA to move up a level in the D&I rankings based – in part, on the work they have done with groups such as ours, the disabled supporters and other initiatives.
The Everton game has been earmarked for West Ham to show support for the Kick It Out campaign.
Their aim is to achieve a gold level equality standard.

West Ham are working in partnership with the Disables Supporters Advisory Board (DSAB) on the following:

  • Dedicated email for disabled supporters, allowing them to contact the DSAB as a route into the club.
  • An accessible stadia guide
  • Disabled Go Access Survey
  • A Sensory room for autistic supporters
  • Accessibility passes to allow disabled supporters to get around the stadium with ease (using lifts etc.)

The club have also produced a video showcasing all of their Equality initiatives which we will share once it’s made available online.

Help Centre
West Ham will soon be launching a Help Centre site which is designed to help fans with general and match day issues from directions to ticketing to other FAQs. We’ll share more once the launch date has been announced.

Political Rumblings
There’s too much to go into detail on, but two things to mention:There was a lot of noise in the media when Sadiq Khan stepped in and got involved regarding the stadium. However he has not responded to any of Karren Brady’s 15 letters and she is unable to get a meeting with him. Until that happens, it’s hard to know what his position is or what the knock on effects might be for the club.
The stadium operator won’t agree the capacity increase to 66,000 for whatever reason and so there will be a court case in October/November this year.

Branding
A lot has been said about making the stadium more “West Ham” so it feels like home. Some rebranding has already taken place, adding some Bobby Moore imagery to the outside of the stadium. The club are arranging a focus group with the SAB to discuss what the fans want to see in the stands and concourses. Themes and ideas should be led by the fans and then implemented by the club. Please get in contact with any ideas you may have and POI will do our best to represent those ideas in that forum on your behalf.
Applications have been made to rename one of the roads leading to the stadium “West Ham Way” and the club are awaiting approval. They are also seeing if it’s possible to get permits for the old Green Street stallholders to pitch there on match days.

World Cup Statue
The club are trying to move the statue to Stratford and have paid for a plinth that is in place, ready for the statue’s arrival. They have agreement in principal with the council, however this needs to be ratified by a council vote which will take place on 22nd March. West Ham will be paying for the relocation of the statue.

Upton Park Memorial Garden
There has been significant complaint and upset around the condition and maintenance of the memorial garden since the Club moved to the new ground. When the ground was sold, it was sold with the condition that the memorial garden was maintained (first by Galliard and subsequently by Barratt). Apparently there is a team employed by Barratt who are responsible for the upkeep, but it has been recognised that they have fallen short of the standard West Ham fans expect. The club have reviewed the situation and agree it is not up to standard. West Ham have now intervened and will be sending their own people to the Memorial Garden once a week for general maintenance, landscaping etc. There is no agreement around the ongoing maintenance post-development when the properties are sold on, however the club will be discussing this with the families who’s love ones are memorialised there as West Ham feels it is they who are most affected and deserve to be consulted.

Tickets
Ticket prices are frozen for all season tickets except Band 5 which will go up by £31 if renewing for one year. Those Band 5 ticket-holder renewing for 2 years will still only pay £289 per year.

The club trialled an initiative for away tickets recently, making 10% of away tickets available to people who don’t have the minimum points required. This was off the back of SAB feedback that it is notoriously difficult to get away tickets and essentially the same people are buying tickets over and over and in some cases not attending matches because they just want the point or, selling them on for a profit. WHUISA have run a survey to get feedback on the scheme which will be made available on their website at some point on 1st March.
Feedback was offered by some that there have been complaints on the forums by some (presumably those who are used to getting away tickets every time), however it was accepted that something has to be done otherwise many fans (including younger ones) will essentially be locked out of away games.

Stewarding
Much has already been said about this on other forums and sites, so I’ll keep it brief. The stewarding is now provided by four companies instead of one. There has been call from the fans to reinstate stewards from Upton Park who have all been contacted with the club offering to pay for their NVQs. One of the four companies has 70 former Upton Park stewards on it’s books. The others have been asked to do an audit. The aim is to have a former Upton Park steward as a “Quadrant Manager” in each stand.

And that’s about it I think. It was a long old meting so I may have missed some bits, but hopefully that’s most of it covered. If you’re interested, keep your eyes peeled online as there was plenty of representation at the meeting.

Events

Just when you got over our first Quiz, here’s another! And if you came to the last one and thought it went on a little late, don’t fear! Our professional Quizmaster David H is back! So Jim can relax this time round and enjoy his rum and diet coke in the corner.
Details are:

My Brave And Wonderful Friends

“I felt empowered enough yesterday to challenge homophobia at a match, it’s only because I knew I would be backed up. If POI had not been set up I would have not had the confidence to do that.” 

My good friend and fellow committee member Dave1 sent this message in our WhatsApp group the day after our trip to Brighton. We’d had a great day by the seaside; drinking prosecco on the train down after a frantic run (on my part) to not miss it, arguing about who the best Spice Girl is (it’s Baby Spice) over pints of beer in a pub overlooking the pier and starting rousing renditions of bubbles as we ate lukewarm, soggy pies surrounded by our fellow travelling fans squashed into the away area at the Amex stadium. The actual game was almost an afterthought to all the fun we were having on our Pride of Irons Day Out (and let’s be honest, it really isn’t a game worth remembering).

The chanting started after we conceded our third goal; everyone was cold, damp and frustrated and emotions were running high. Suddenly the fans in the row behind us stopped directing their anger at the Board and instead at the home team and fans. “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” Within seconds all eleven of us had turned around in our seats, and I watched as my brave, wonderful friends shut it down. Here are the accounts of those brave, wonderful friends of mine:

“I spun around and said ‘Well MY boyfriend knows I’m here!’” – Jim


“I just tapped the guy who was saying it directly behind me and I said ‘can you stop saying that, it offends me’, and lo and behold he stopped” 
– Dave1
“I turned around as most of us did. I cannot remember what I said as I was enraged.” – Jo
“I just asked the guy behind me to ‘give it a rest, mate’. To which he apologised and then said nothing else the rest of the game.” – Kez

 

Pretty great huh? There was no more chanting and once the dismal game finally ended we bundled onto a bus which took us back to the pub where we discovered mac n cheese pizza (MAC N CHEESE PIZZA!).

Dave’s message at the top of this blog though got me thinking about why we exist as a group, and how important it is we exist. Within 30 seconds we managed to shut down and shut up some boring homophobes and we managed to do that because of the united front we presented, and the knowledge that we would be backed up by each other and the Club.

A few years ago, before Pride of Irons was even an idea sent bouncing around Twitter by Jim I went to a game at Upton Park with my friend Ella. I can’t even remember who we were playing now, maybe Norwich – as with a lot of West Ham games it wasn’t remarkable. After the match we got chips and joined the long queue to get back on the tube. As we nattered away our conversation turned to Ronaldo’s girlfriend at the time, Irina Shayk, and we were rather enthusiastically appreciating a recent photo shoot she’d done and agreed whole heartedly that Ronaldo was punching. As we descended into girly giggles over how fit Irina is an older guy in front of us turned round. He didn’t say anything, he mostly just looked confused. But what if he had? What would I have done? I’d like to think I’d have stood up for myself, but in reality I would have done nothing. I would’ve done nothing except unlink arms with Ella, smile to placate him and shuffle away, too scared for a confrontation.

But now? Now, knowing a group like Pride of Irons exists and would back me up, now knowing there is a chance a member is in the queue behind me, now knowing the Club fully and unequivocally supports me as a bisexual female West Ham fan, what would I have done if that older guy had been aggressive instead of confused? Well, who knows? But that fact that I have the support of Pride of Irons is a huge comfort and a powerful tool. And THAT is why we exist.

Last November West Ham and Pride of Irons played a big role in the launch of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, and as a result there was a very visible social media presence. I normally steer clear of reading the comments on social media, but as I sat on the train that was taking me to East London where I was due to be interviewed (or rather due to stand next to Al as he was interviewed) by the Club I decided to dive in. The usual comments were there waiting for me, and with an unprecedented feat of patience I decided to calmly and gently reply to all the “but why do you feel the need to make a big deal of it???” and “no one cares if you’re gay no need to make a song & dance about it” and “politics should stay out of football” and (my personal favourite) “there are kids who read this you know” comments. Much to my everlasting amusement, I got called a filthy woman. I was so delighted I screen shot it and sent it to my mum.

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But all jokes aside this is serious, and it highlights the exact reason we exist as a group. Contrary to popular belief, we would love it if we didn’t have to exist! We DON’T want to need to exist! We want to live in a world where we don’t hear chanting that makes a joke about boys having boyfriends. We want to live in a world where we don’t get called a filthy woman on Instagram for being open about our sexuality. We want to live in a world where we have overpaid male footballers walking out a nightclub holding their boyfriend’s hand and all anyone cares about is how with all that money he still can’t dress with any style. We want to live in a world where people are not disowned by their family, assaulted by strangers or killed by the state for being attracted to their own gender. We all want to live in this world. But we don’t. And until we do, that is why its important groups like Pride of Irons exist. It’s still a fight. Our group’s fight is small. It isn’t going to stop the systematic assault on the rights and humanity of LGBT citizens in Russia, but our fight will make that kid who thinks he might be gay who saw the homophobic chanting at that Brighton game he went to with his Mum shut down by a hodgepodge group of supporters feel welcomed and safe. That’s our fight.

Here’s another quote from one of my brave, wonderful friends about the game on Saturday. It makes me swell with pride.

“I imagine they were surprised to be challenged … what a diverse group we were. Male and female pretty much equally, and a kid. That doesn’t say ‘gay’ to them and challenging them shows that their preconceptions are wrong. ” – Ian

We’re doing good, team.