‘Here we are, you know us by our noise. The pride of South London the famous Palace boys (and girls!)’.
Never before has this song had such a significant meaning. This year marked 50 years since the Stonewall riots, when the patrons of a New York City bar fought back against a discriminatory police raid. At the time, homosexuality — or "sodomy," as it was referred to in the legal books — was still a crime. Men could be arrested for wearing drag, and women faced the same punishment if they were found wearing less than three pieces of "feminine clothing." The harassment continued for years, infuriating the gay community. On June 28, 1969, the police arrived at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. However, the 200 patrons inside didn't just sit down and wait to be arrested — they resisted, then rioted, sending the police a loud and clear message about their frustration with the status quo for LGBT individuals. July 6th 2019 was about to see Central London transform into a sea of rainbow, with 30,000 people about to take part in the annual Pride parade, from 600 different organisations, in front of 1.5 million spectators.
One of the 600 groups taking part was Crystal Palace FC, Proud and Palace LGBT+ group. Being part of the LGBT+ community, attending pride was always something I wanted to do but had never found the confidence to do it. A few months ago, I found the Proud and Palace group and immediately signed up to join them in the parade. I arrived early to a pub near Baker Street tube station filled with anxiety, having never met anyone in the group or even attended Pride before I was nervous. I grabbed a table and placed my Palace scarf across it when within minutes a man and woman came over and sat down and started talking to me, to my absolute surprise it was Pete the eagle. After a few jokes about how I didn’t recognise him without his costume, I started to feel at ease. Members of the group started trickling in with introductions and plenty of hugs. The drinks were soon flowing, whilst very in-depth Palace conversation started taking place. It was soon time to get ready to get to our starting position. Puma had very kindly provided the t-shirts, whilst the club provided the mascot and wrist bands. It was also amazing to see so many members of staff from the club that had turned out to support us!
With Pete the Eagle finally dressed and ready we set off (Pete was soon stopped for photos from a couple of Leeds fan, this was becoming evident that Pete was about to steal the show). We arrived at our starting position to the absolute horror of being place next to Chelsea Pride and in front of Arsenal, reveries aside there is one love today (yes, I went and hugged a Chelsea fan). Pete the Eagle was in full performance mode, hugging spectators, posing for photos and seemed to be going down amazingly well with the crowd. Whilst we waited to get going I took a moment to take everything in and was just amazed at the diversity and love that was around me, it felt like I had known members of the Proud and Palace group forever, everyone was so open and friendly and just so proud to be representing the club that we all loved. It was also amazing to see so many of the clubs being represented, Chelsea, Arsenal, Watford, West Ham. All the team mascots were dancing with each and waving each other's flags and was a great thing to see (even though I’ve not quite forgiven Harry the Hornet for how he mocked our Wilf!).
Finally, it was time to get going and pound the streets of London. Pete the Eagle continued to entertain the crowd to the continual chants of ‘Eagles’ I must say I was loving every second of it, being able to finally be myself, without the worrying of homophobic abuse supported by what felt like 30 new friends. In absolute true Palace style, we couldn’t help but start having a bit of banter with Chelsea that were marching in front of us, in true Palace style the chants of ‘can you hear the Chelsea sing....soon started, in fact at one point as one of the announcers, announced that ‘here comes Crystal Palace.....oh wait are you ok being so close to each other, in response to us being so close to the Chelsea fans...’ It was all done with good humor and acknowledgement that we were all there for the same cause! I think we made more noise that Chelsea, Arsenal and Watford put together. We may not have had the finances for the vans and floats that they had but we certainly made up for it with our noise. As a rendition of glad all over took place with Pete the Eagle performing exactly as he does on match days and continuous cheers from the crowd, we reached the end of the parade. The absolute star of the show was Pete the Eagle, he did an absolutely incredible job and bounced around in the heat for hours! The crowd loved him.
On a personal level I loved every second of the day and made some amazing new friends. I was incredible proud to be representing a club that I love but also a club that has so much support for its LBGT+ community. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done as 1/3 of the LGBT+ community has been subject to homophobic attacks and is still a crime in so many countries in the world. I had a conversation with a transgender member of the group that had been joining to Selhurst for years but after the change didn’t feel that she could go back. As a group we discussed how to help this person return to matches and I even pointed out that I've always felt that Selhurst is one of the most accepting clubs in the league and it’s a place that I have always felt that I can be whoever I want to be without judgement. On match days all anyone really cares about is the match and we all have that one thing in common to support the Palace and to be South London and Proud!