Rainbow Laces – The Campaign

If you’ve read about the build up to the Rainbow Laces campaign, you’re probably wondering “So what happened next?”. Well here it is:

We start on Saturday 24th November – the day of that unfortunate 0-4 home loss to Manchester City – when nine Pride Of Irons members descended upon the London Stadium at 10:30am (on the day of a 3:00pm kick off). It was an early start but we were full of enthusiasm for what was to come. In planning for the Rainbow Laces campaign, West Ham United had invited POI members to take part in a video they were making to promote the campaign. As a committee, we jumped at the opportunity and on reaching out to our members, we were delighted to see there was appetite for them to step forward and tell their stories.

Myself (Jim Dolan) and POI Treasurer Al Holmes were joined by Richael, David, Claire, Mark, Michael, Andy and (celebrating his 10th birthday that day), Kenzie; a little boy with two dads who, as you will see, is wiser than many grown adults. On arrival we were taken pitch side for a few photos and where the filming started. We moved around the stadium throughout the morning including a stop at the SLO briefing where Al and I gave a short (okay, it was way too long – sorry guys!) presentation around POI, the Rainbow Laces campaign and LGBT supporters in football.

It was a fantastic opportunity for all involved and I would urge you to watch here, if for nothing else but to hear proof that the old “Out of the mouths of babes…” saying is true.


The next day, another group of POI members attended the West Ham Women’s Rainbow Laces game against Bristol City where they deservedly won 2-0 even if the second goal came from an unfortunate misjudged back pass which a seemingly injured Jane Ross latched onto and calmly slotted away.

The whole team participated by wearing Rainbow Laces in their boots – as did Bristol City – and the club gave away free laces with every match day programme. West Ham Captain, Gilly Flaherty – an out gay woman who made her own video for Rainbow Laces – came over to say hello and stopped for a few photos. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a really cool stadium. Some POI members are already regular attendees but as a committee we are planning to get members together soon to come along soon en masse and cheer on the team!


Finally to the mens Rainbow Laces match – the home game against Cardiff and a buzzing atmosphere coming off the back of a 0-3 away win against Newcastle United. Once again the London Stadium was lit up in rainbow colours with the club pulling out all the stops to show their support for LGBT people. I was interviewed pitch side before kick off by both the club and the Premier League, the campaign was featured heavily in the programme and the Supporter Liaison Officers were handing out rainbow laces to supporters around the stadium and little Kenzie – the star of our video – was a match day mascot and managed to bag a bunch of player autographs. Capped off with the second win in a row where we scored three goals, it was truly a night to remember.

Now the campaign might be over, but the work never stops. Our thanks go out to everyone involved in this amazing campaign, specifically calling out the staff behind the scenes at West Ham United who support us and our brave and wonderful members.

Rainbow Laces 2018 – The Lead Up…

Another year and another Rainbow Laces campaign complete and once again there is so much to talk about, but first, what is Rainbow Laces all about?

The campaign is run but Stonewall; the UK’s premier LGBT charity and aims to make sport welcoming and accessible to everyone. By wearing Rainbow Laces in their shoes, sportspeople can show their support of LGBT people and their right to participate in sport without fear of prejudice.

You may remember that West Ham United and Pride Of Irons were in the spotlight for the 2017 Rainbow Laces campaign and a year on, we’re still working together not just to  make this campaign a success, but throughout the season. Showing support for LGBT fans, staff and players.

Let’s start with the club itself and Supporter Care Manager Hugo Scheckter. Hugo joined West Ham from Southampton where he made the decision to come out as gay whilst working within football. The area of player care is a relatively new one in football but worth reading up on to get an idea of why they are so important. As well as joining us in a meeting between POI and the club to discuss the campaign, Hugo appeared on Sky Sports ‘The Debate’ where he spoke openly and honestly about Rainbow Laces. The audio is available as a podcast and I would recommend you check it out to hear a true voice from the club.

Hugo Schekter on ‘The Debate’ with out referee Ryan Atkin and Liam Rosenior.

So often with LGBT groups – including Pride Of Irons – you see the same faces who run those groups speaking out on behalf of their members. This year we were so fortunate that our members volunteered their time and put themselves out there to bravely talk about their experiences.

Pride Of Irons member Natasha spoke to the Premier League about her experience as a West Ham fan and a Trans Woman. Her video was released on the Premier League website and tweeted out to their 18,000,000 followers on Twitter.

Screenshot 2018-12-09 at 10.51.16
“As soon as that whistle goes you’ve got 60,000 people praying and hoping for one thing, and that is that we score. That is an immensely strong feeling. You almost feel like a family and I absolutely love that feeling.”

Thank you so much to Natasha for being a voice for so many others. Please take a moment to watch Natasha’s video and comment and retweet it too.

Back to West Ham and West Ham Captain and out gay woman, Gilly Flaherty spoke frankly about being an out player and what it was like growing up knowing you’re different.

“The main thing is that I’m no different, and you’re no different, whether you are with a boy or a girl. I am still me, and my personality hasn’t changed.”

Check out here video here and send her some love on Instagram.

There’s more to come from the campaign but we’ll leave you to digest this post first. More positive news and info to come in the next post, but for now; COYI!

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