In 1995 in a pub in King’s Cross London, a group of rugby-loving gay men were having a beer and a conversation. That conversation (fuelled, no doubt, by said beer!) led to the founding of the first gay rugby club, The Kings Cross Steelers. Their original invitation to other clubs was turned down by all but a few, the fear of “catching AIDS” being partly to blame. But eventually The Steelers were able to play regularly. Today, there are around 60 gay rugby clubs around the world, and a championship: The Bingham Cup.
Some years ago, Australian journalist Eammon Ashton-Atkinson moved to London, and joined The Steelers. There he found acceptance, was able to embrace the game he loved once more, and even met his now-husband, John. In 2018 The Steelers were playing in The Bingham Cup in Amsterdam. Unable to play due to an injury, Ashton-Atkinson decided to get behind the camera instead, and this documentary feature is the result.
Steelers focusses mainly on the stories of three people, whilst following the team’s journey through the Bingham Cup. Simon Jones speaks openly and authentically about his struggles with depression. Andrew McDowell, originally from Massachusetts, explores issues of masculine identity in sport, being both a solid-unit rugby player, and a drag artist. Nic Evans is coach and Director of Rugby for the team. A former Wales player, men often still assume she is the physio or the water-girl. Her love for the game, and for “her boys” is obvious in every scene. And Ashton-Atkinson himself tells his own story of bullying and depression.
Very much a one-man production, Ashton-Atkinson has done an impressive job of making a feature documentary on what was clearly a shoestring budget. The only quibble is his voice-over work which, although personal and moving, often sounds awkward and clunky. A better choice perhaps would have been a professional voice-over artist, and Ashton-Atkinson telling his story to camera.
This is not just a film for rugby lovers, although it is unashamedly a love letter to “the game they play in heaven”. Steelers explores belonging, gender expectations, the toxicity of the standard sports trope, and the surprising struggles that gay men and women still have. Moving, exciting, and hilarious, it is sure to give rise to a new wave of rugby fans, and open up discussion around gender expectations in sport.
Steelers is available on Apple TV Google Play and Amazon Prime
Click here for the official site.
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