Saturday 28 Feb
Updated Saturday 28 Feb 12:00
Club

Hammers welcome Pride of Irons

West Ham United are proudly supporting an international campaign to combat homophobia in football. 

As one of the very first professional clubs to do so in 2012, the Hammers are pleased to renew their backing of Football v Homophobia (FvH) for a fourth successive season, as the campaign’s February month of action signs off in style. 

To mark the occasion, the Club are delighted to announce the affiliation of West Ham’s very first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) supporters’ club, Pride of Irons. 

Founder James Dolan first approached the Club under the auspices of GFSN (Gay Football Supporters' Network) secretary and fan-groups coordinator Leviathen Hendricks, and Pride of Irons has already amassed a healthy membership.

Joint-Chairman David Gold, who is set to greet the group prior to kick-off this afternoon, reiterated the Club’s commitment to tolerance and inclusion. 

“This is great news for all concerned and I’d personally like to welcome the Pride of Irons into the fold. As a Club, we work exceptionally hard to promote tolerance, both among our supporters and the wider football family, so this sort of recognition is really important.”

Above all, founder James is keen to see the new group bring people together and hopes it will show off West Ham in its true colours.   

“I remember reading one of Cass Pennant's books about racism in the 80s and him stating that inside the ground the only colours people cared about were claret and blue,” he recalled. “I'd like to think that applies to everything; race, gender, nationality, class and yes, sexuality too.” 

While James explains that he rarely, if ever, encounters discrimination on an individual basis at football, crowd mentality can sometimes dictate otherwise and he asks that his fellow Hammers be mindful and respectful of those sat around them.      

He continued: "I've never had problems with West Ham fans – or any other team's fans in fact – one on one. But it's in that cauldron-like atmosphere of a football ground, when one person will start a chant and almost automatically, hundreds - maybe thousands – will join in. Before you know it, every gay person within earshot feels unwelcome and a little disappointed. 

“Disappointed because we know our Club and our fellow fans are better than that. West Ham fans are salt of the earth people. Honest down-to-earth people and fiercely loyal. I know this about my fellow Hammers. I know they're better than the chants I hear.         

“In my opinion, it's not about putting up banners or waving rainbow flags. It's about bringing people together and showing the world what a progressive and diverse Club West Ham are.”   
Kick It Out is delighted the 'Pride of Irons' are becoming officially affiliated to West Ham United. It is vitally important that clubs give their support to the development of LGBT fans' groups as the game strives to create a fully inclusive and welcoming environment for all football supporters.
Sentiments echoed by former Hammers midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who enjoyed a brief, if memorable, stint in Claret and Blue back in the 2010/11 season. Now a prominent voice in the battle against homophobia, the 32-year-old is encouraged by what he sees happening at the Boleyn Ground.    

“I’m delighted to see my former club West Ham launch their own LGBT group, Pride of Irons,” he confirmed.  “The West Ham family is very special, I know that first hand, and I’m sure this new group will get all the support they deserve and need.     

“Football should be a safe place for everyone and I am optimistic that we’re getting there in the Premier League. This is another important step in the right direction.” 

Meanwhile, Louise Englefield, Campaign Director, Football v Homophobia, offered her vote of thanks to the Hammers, acknowledging the Club’s commitment to the cause in recent years.

"West Ham United has been a great supporter of the Football v Homophobia campaign for a number of years. The launch of Pride of Irons underlines the club's commitment to including LGBT people and ensuring everyone feels welcome at the Boleyn Ground. Congratulations and best wishes from all of us at FvH!"