Tom Allen talks homophobia and Rainbow Laces at West Ham in 'I'm Game'
Watch 'I'm Game' on Sky Sports Mix and On Demand in support of Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign all this week
By Jon Holmes and Mark McAdam
Last Updated: 02/12/19 8:55pm
In the last couple of years, Tom Allen has become one of Britain's favourite comedians - but he's never really felt the love when it comes to football.
Growing up in south-east London, Tom recalls an uneasy relationship with sport which has continued throughout his life.
"For me as a young gay man, it felt like something other people did," he tells Sky Sports' Mark McAdam. "I think amongst other boys and men it was always something that they did together, and I never felt quite like I belonged there.
"I always felt like I was different, and that I wasn't good enough."
Mark invites Tom to watch West Ham's recent Premier League encounter with Sheffield United, where they meet the Pride of Irons - the Hammers' LGBT fans group - outside the London Stadium.
"LGBT people need to realise football isn't what a lot of us think it is," says the group's co-chair, Jim Dolan who also sits on the West Ham Official Supporters Board.
Pride of Irons was founded in 2015 and members have worked closely with the club, stewards and other fan groups to help raise awareness around LGBT inclusion.
Jim has been a regular at West Ham for years, from before he came out to friends and family. He became increasingly aware of how hearing certain chants and comments at football matches could have an impact on LGBT people.
"The chants started to connect with me, and I started to understand why in context hearing things with the word 'queer' in and that kind of stuff, you think 'that doesn't make people feel welcome'.
"I was used to hearing that as a match-to-match thing. I was like, 'hang on, that probably does sting quite a bit'.
"I think things are getting better. You don't hear as much of that stuff any more. I think the visibility of groups like this are saying 'we're here too'.
"I suppose there are those barbed moments when you hear something that does make you think, 'oh, that's indirectly targeting me'. I think our visibility and being here is the only thing to really help fight that."
Tom agrees. "That seems so important. Those kinds of chants... it's so easy if you've grown up around it, which I think I experienced at school - I think a lot of people do, with homophobia.
"It becomes so insidious that you don't notice it after a while. You go 'oh well, I guess that's normal for people to shout that at me.'"
At the London Stadium, Tom gets to chat pitchside with Bubbles the Bear and Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, and also meets up with his colleague on The Apprentice, Karren Brady - West Ham's vice-chair - and Jack Sullivan, the managing director of West Ham Women.
He also considers the question of why there aren't any out gay male professional footballers, and assesses the positive impact that the Rainbow Laces campaign is having throughout sport.
Watch 'I'm Game' with Tom Allen at West Ham in the video above, and see the episode in full On Demand, with more episodes throughout the week.
The annual activation of Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign - which is supported by Sky Sports - is under way now and continues until December 9.
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