West Ham fan looking to make a real difference to LGBT football supporters
- Credit: Archant
Dave Evans chats to West Ham fan Jim Dolan of Pride of Irons about his passion to eradicate homophobia at football
West Ham fan Jim Dolan is a man on a mission.
He looks like a lot of Hammers fans. He has a beard, he has tattoos and at every home game he turns up to cheer on his team and hope for the best.
But there is a lot more to him. He is the founder of a group called Pride of Irons and as a gay man, is looking to eradicate the behaviour and songs that make it difficult for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people to go to football.
We meet up at the Micro Pub close to his home in Gidea Park and he says: “It is the third anniversary of Pride of Irons this month, but it was probably going for a year before that on Twitter.
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“I’d been going to West Ham for years and I had a lot of gay friends who said they didn’t like football because of the atmosphere.
“I just said that is riduclous. Obviously I’m not over there draped in rainbow colours. I talk about my other half and it is fine. But then I experienced one situation where it wasn’t fine. It wasn’t about me, it was just generally homophobic and racist abuse from one particular person.
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“It is not right that some people can be put off going to football, by something that happens so infrequently. There must be a way we can talk about things more openly.”
That is Jim’s agenda. To try and change perceptions and get rid of this sort of chanting, in much the same way that racist chants have been largely eradicated.
“Football in this country has done a lot to deal with racism and I think if anyone started a racist chant or made monkey noises, it would be snuffed out,” adds Jim.
“We are not there with homophobia yet and we’re not there with anti-semitism either.
“For me, it is what the songs stand for that is offensive. It is a society thing that gay people are limp-wristed fairies who mince about the place in hot pants and heels or whatever they think.
“It is that kind of attempt by people to emasculate gay people. I don’t get all uppity about it, it is just one of those things where you just roll your eyes and say, ‘can we not just get past it?’”
Jim is clearly as passionate about the cause as he is about West Ham.
His first game was the FA Cup final in 2006 and he has been almost ever-present at Upton Park and the London Stadium since.
He came out as gay at the age of 26 and some might say these sorts of chants are only ‘a bit of banter’ but Jim adds: “This is a free country and you have the right to offend anyone you want, but there are consequences.
“We don’t want to be a group of people who go around grassing people up. What we want to do is challenge things and get people to understand we are not here to try and get people chucked out and change the culture of the club – we want people to realise that we are part of that culture.”
Pride of Irons is not an exclusive club for LGBT people. Around 25 per cent of members are straight and Jim adds: “About 50 per cent of our membership are men aged 40 up into their sixties so these aren’t new, young uppity gay boys who have turned up and want to change football.
“These are the old boys who have sat in the crowd for years and have dealt with these chants with dignity.”
Of course, West Ham had one of the most high-profile LGBT footballers in Thomas Hitzlsperger, but the German did not come out as gay until after he retired from playing.
“I think it would certainly have helped gay football supporters because he would have been a great role model,” says Jim. “But I think it would not have helped him as a player. I think every time he did something wrong, the chants would start.”
He is probably right and that is why there are no high-profile LGBT players in top level football.
There is still a way to go, but slowly things are beginning to change.
“A group of about 11 LGBT supporters went to Brighton recently and there were no problems until about the 70th minute when someone started singing, ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ adds Jim.
“Four of us spun round and I said ‘my boyfriend knows I am here!’. Someone else said ‘leave it out, I find that offensive’ and to be fair they stopped.
“They looked embarrassed and they stopped immediately and that is what you want,” says Jim, who praised West Ham as a club.
“Since we’ve moved to the new stadium, the likes of Jake Heath the supporter services manager, Sophie Lawson who works with him and Max Fitzgerald, who has recently left, have been brilliant with us.
“When we were filming a video at the club, Max said to me afterwards that he didn’t realise how much this meant to us.
“They also gave us the mascot ‘Hammerhead’ for the London Pride march which was absolutely brilliant. We were the envy of all the other football fans that were marching.”
That video, part of Sky Sports ‘In Off The Bar’ programme, put Jim and Pride of Irons on the map, but what does he think his role will be in the future?
It is a surprising answer. He says: “Look, I know one-on-one there are no problems. You meet any West Ham fan and they don’t give a toss, they really don’t, it is just the mob mentality.
“In the future we don’t want to exist anymore. Once there is no need for it, we can just go, because there will be no need for it and we will all just be West Ham fans.”
That would be nice, but until that day, West Ham and football in general need people like Jim Dolan.
To see Jim’s film made as part of the Carling/Sky film series go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApFWIGnF64w.