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.

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Feedback to the Club on the New Stadium

As mentioned on the WHUFC website ( http://www.whufc.com/news/articles/2017/january/06-january/all-new-sab-meet ), the all-new SAB will meet for the first time on Tuesday 24th January 2017.
Pride of Irons are proud to be represented on the SAB, so we invite our members to get in touch with the experiences, both good and bad, of match-days at the club. In particular, we’d be keen to hear about your overall match-day experience, as well as :
Public transport
Accessibility
Stewarding
Stadium catering
Pre and post-match entertainment.
Any other issues that you feel strongly about, let us know.

Please send your feedback to our treasurer, Al Holmes, by Sunday 22nd January. Al can be contacted at prideofirons@alholmes.co.uk .

Alternatively, complete this online form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdIWC8o6m…

Well what a week that was!

There were TV appearances, the London Stadium lit up with a giant rainbow and the Pride Of Irons logo, pitch-side interviews, a film shown inside the stadium, a mention in the programme and more besides. What a proud moment for West Ham’s LGBT fans!

It Started With A Tweet

We had been looking forward to this for weeks. Friday the 24th – the day of Moyes’ first home game against Leicester and the launch of the Rainbow Laces campaign. There was plenty planned for the day but what a surprise to wake up and find Co-Chair Jim’s fan film for Carling’s In Off The Bar had been Tweeted out by Sky Sports to their 4.62 MILLION followers! Later in the day it was added to Facebook and YouTube and received an overwhelmingly positive response! Sure there were homophobes who decided to air their views, but it only goes to show how important campaigns like Rainbow Laces and groups like ours are!

News to us!

Throughout the day – and indeed the course of that weekend – the campaign was featured heavily in the media. We’ve known for some time that West Ham United are behind us, but the prominence of the club in the media was something to behold. Seeing our club captain, Mark Noble, representing a colour of the rainbow flag is something we only could have imagined previously.

Stop! Banner  Time.

Before the Leicester game, Al went across to the London Stadium and put our brand new flag into position, and it got shown in the evening on Sky Sports.  This flag will now be at every West Ham match at the London Stadium, so look out for it while you’re there or watching on TV. The colours really stand out from all of the other flags.

At the game.

Approaching the ground you would have seen this amazing sight! Yes, the club and the London Stadium worked together not just to put a huge rainbow on the giant screen wrap outside the stadium, but they also added the Pride Of Irons logo! It was a huge gesture from the club, showing their acknowledgement of our group and backing for their LGBT fans.

It was good to see members coming along again for a drink at the our pre-match meet up and to see a few new faces, and we also had some Rainbow Laces to hand out. We’re keen to repeat these meetups before each home match this season and it’s the only way of getting hold of one of our exclusive Pride of Irons badges. Al will be there from about 11am, ahead of the Chelsea game and there’ll be more people there afterwards.

As fun as the meet up was, two of the committee had to make a swift exit to head over to the stadium for a pitch-side interview with Kelly Somers. The excitement of walking down the tunnel towards the pitch was great, but they were soon faced with the reality of their faces being on the HUGE screens inside the ground. Al did a great job of speaking about POI and Rainbow Laces week while Lorna had a fangirl moment with one of her heroes standing nearby.

To find out more about their experience, head over to our website and read Lorna’s awesome blog !

After the interview, Al and Lorna headed to their seats to read the match day programme which included a piece by Jim. Unfortunately he couldn’t be at the match (more about that later), though he did make an appearance of sorts. Unknown to POI, the club had made their own cut of Jim’s fan film and showed it on the big screens in the stadium as well as releasing it on their Twitter feed.

        

Over on Sky Sports Premier League

So the day finally came where Jim was to appear on Carling’s In Off The Bar – Sky Sports’ Friday pre-match show presented by Max Rushden. This week’s guests were Danny Mills, Muzzy Izzet and West Ham super fan; Kriss Akabusi!

My Experience Of The Rainbow Laces Weekend

Wow, what a weekend! Stonewall launched their rainbow laces campaign, and Pride of Irons were delighted to play a starring role.

Who else was at the game on Friday? You wouldn’t have been able to miss the abundance of rainbows throughout the stadium, and we really hope you saw our logo displayed on the electronic wraparound. To say we were excited about it is an understatement, there was lots of photo taking up at the top bar at the Podium and gleeful pointing every time it came round.

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Those of you who were watching before the game may have caught some of our members on Sky Sports Premier’s Carling’s In Off the Bar, along with our Co-Chair Jim. Jim’s husband has written about the experience in his blog post here –we’d love to hear your feedback if you caught it!

For those who braved the cold and made it to the London Stadium, you would have been treated to a different viewing experience. The Club asked us for a pre-game pitch side interview, an opportunity we were certainly not going to turn down. Around 7.30pm Al and I made our way down the tunnel to be interviewed by Kelly and our faces were projected on the giant stadium screens. Al did the group proud with his articulate answers, whereas I stood frozen by his side hyper aware that Mark Noble was warming up mere metres away.

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Some of those of you who joined us at Pride this year may have also spotted yourself in the match day programme, alongside a message about PoI and the rainbow laces campaign from Jim. We hope you all picked up a copy.

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The game happened, Winston Reid wore his rainbow captain’s arm band, West Ham didn’t lose and the atmosphere inside the stadium was buzzing. All in all not bad for a cold November Friday night.

Oh, and all the publicity for the group from the weekend has resulted in a few new followers…

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aaaWe’re so excited with how the group is growing and we look forward to you all joining us on the adventure ahead. Come On You Irons!

By Lorna Severn (@BakingBlues)

‘This Is Pride Of Irons’ – Behind the scenes of our TV debut

It was a cold….a VERY cold November evening as I left my office in Canary Wharf and made my way to the tube. This wasn’t a commute home after a busy week at work though, it was instead a special (and slightly cramped) journey to The Edward Lear pub in Islington to meet up with Jim, Founder and Co-Chairman of PoI and who also happens to be my husband. Why was the journey special? Because PoI were making their TV debut on ‘Carling’s In Off the Bar’ which is shown on Sky Sports Premier League, Facebook, and online. Yes friends, this was a very big deal.

This was a particularly proud moment for me because I was there at the beginning. I was sat at the game where we witnessed some really vile homophobic abuse which became the catalyst for PoI being formed. I, along with Jim and Dave (PoI’s social media and events master) gave statements to the police about what had happened that day. I was there when we got the call to say the culprit had been identified, found and arrested and I was also there when we were told the individual had been, without going into details, duly dealt with by the appropriate authorities.

I was also there when Jim was getting frustrated at trying to figure out who he needed to speak to at the Club to try and get some support for the group and I was there that fateful Sunday morning when he decided to just set up his own Twitter account in order to get something started.

Since then the group really has gone from strength to strength and in the relatively short time we’ve been going, it’s been great to see how things have taken off. From the Club becoming more involved and more supportive than we ever thought possible to students asking to make films about us and right up to this point, where we’ve been given the opportunity to make a ‘fan film’ for Sky Sports and reach a massive audience in order to show them what we’re all about. That’s pretty awesome, right?

‘X’ marks the spot

I arrived at The Edward Lear to be met at the bar by Jim’s younger sister; and my sister-in-law, Amber, who had the beers ready which was a very welcome sight after the journey I’d just had to get there. We were issued a wristband which allowed us access to the upstairs bar which had been roped off and was guarded by a security guard who looked like he’d tear your head off if you looked at him funny. Heading up the stairs we met up with Jim who had been there for some time being briefed on where to sit and what would happen and when.

On screen the show looks like Max Rushden and Co. have just rocked up at the bar and are sitting there casually hanging out and chatting all things football but it’s fair to say that the entire team at CIOTB put in a huge amount of effort…and I mean HUGE! The crew had been there since 8am setting everything up. No sooner had we sat down, we were ushered through to the bar which was lit to within an inch of its life and was probably the only bar in London on a Friday night that had empty tables ready and waiting for us!

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Jim had been asked to sit on the seat marked with an ‘X’ to make sure he was in shot when the cameras came to him for an introduction. We all took our seats and chatted about what we thought the evening would bring when in walks Kriss Akabusi. This man is always smiling and he always has time for people.

We were told we could sit and chat just like we would in a “normal” pub except in this pub we had to clap when we were told to clap and stop clapping when we were told to stop clapping. That’s easy enough to remember.

All around the bar were screens which showed all sorts that was going on…the videos that were cut away to during the show appeared on one screen, the live-feed to the London Stadium appeared on another and the images that the cameras all around us were picking up appeared on another…usually just at the moment where you catch sight of yourself and feel incredibly awkward!

We were given our five minute countdown and in walks another assistant who walks round each table decanting our beers from glasses into plain black plastic cups…TV regulations mean you can’t be seen to be boozing it up on screen which is fair enough but I wonder how many people thought we were sat in a pub on a Friday evening drinking fizzy pop and not the hard stuff?

We’re live!

We have our 15 second countdown and start applauding (because we’re told to) as the credits role and theme music plays…this is it….we’re LIVE!

It’s funny but when someone tells you to sit and talk just like you would in the pub it’s surprising how quickly the conversation dries up as you feel the pressure to look casual, like you are just sat in a pub and not surrounded by cameras, lighting and sound equipment and a very jovial and passionate Akabusi.

A cut away to some of the guys wearing rainbow laces….a smooth link by Max over to the London Stadium where the rainbow laces initiative is introduced along with a further mention of Jim’s fan film and it’s then back to the pub where Max introduces Jim and the camera cuts away to him happily raising his black plastic cup full of fizzy pop to the camera. Back to Max who introduces the video and there it is. On all the screens around us. The awesomely well-made and effective video made by Sky for us, Pride of Irons. It was a really proud moment for everyone.

Unfortunately Jim didn’t have time to really take it all in as he was taken from his seat and took his place up at the bar in front of the cameras ready for his interview. The video comes to an end and we all applaud (this time not because we were told to but because the video, the moment, all the work that everyone at PoI had put in up to this point rightly deserved it) I know I’m biased but Jim came across really well in the interview. He spoke passionately, engaged with everyone and answered all the questions asked of him without missing a beat.

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Match time

Once the interview was over, it was time to watch the match. We applaud as the theme music plays and we’re off the air. Akabusi has hopped on a motorbike in order to get to the London Stadium in time for kick-off and we all settle down to watch the match. I mean, we all know how that went. It could’ve been better but it also could’ve been a lot worse!

We were all given dinner and enjoyed a few more drinks before a photo op was taken to get Jim up behind the bar with Max Rushden, Danny Mills and Muzzy Izzet.

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The lights come back on, the screens are all fired up again and we’re given another 15 minute countdown before we’re back on air for the post-match show.

We top up our black plastic cups with fizzy pop and we’re good to go! Akabusi makes it back with just a few minutes to spare and before we know it, the theme music plays once more…

“I can’t work in these conditions!”

You often hear of people in showbiz talking about the conditions they have to work in. Never work with children, never work with animals….well, I can add something else to that. Never work with your sister-in-law when she too has had a few black plastic cups of fizzy pop. The ad-break came along and the crew ran around making sure everything was still perfect, they topped up our cups with fizzy pop and we were given our 15-second countdown and told to start clapping again but instead of clapping, Jim’s sister reached across the table for something but unfortunately knocked over one of the black plastic cups full of fizzy pop. The table filled with….fizzy pop…just as the theme music started again. There was no time. It was too late. None of us could move as the fizzy pop started dripping off the table onto our bags, our shoes and all over one unfortunate souls lap. I reached down to my bag to get a packet of tissues and we all sat chatting and chuckling casually as we tried to mop up the sea of fizzy pop without drawing any attention to ourselves. I’ve seen the show back and we managed it very well, you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong!

One hilarious rant from Akabusi about sausage sandwiches later and it was all over. What an evening!

Whilst this was a really fun experience to be part of, it was an even bigger moment for PoI and, we all hope, the catalyst for even bigger and better things to come for the group. From a personal perspective I’d just like to say a big “thank you” to the guy at the match that day. From your vulgar, repulsive and abhorrent behaviour has grown something truly incredible which has reached infinitely more people than your uneducated verbal-diarrhoea ever will.

And, if you want to know how we discovered the word “bellwhiff” courtesy of Max Rushden, buy me a black plastic cup of fizzy pop and I’ll tell you all about it….