Steelers – movie review

The Steelers were the world’s first gay rugby team, formed in a pub in Kings Cross in London in 1995. At first they found that other rugby teams were reluctant to play against them. But now there are more than 60 gay rugby clubs around the world with over 2000 members. The annual Bingham Cup is the World Cup for gay rugby teams.

In 2018 the games were held in Amsterdam. But as the Steelers prepared for the tournament, one of its members was sidelined due to concussion. But Australian born Eammon Ashton Atkinson drew on his background as a television broadcast journalist to document the team’s progress through the tournament. While ostensibly a film about a sporting team, this is not your typical underdog story as the film deals with more serious subject matter and themes such as sexuality, gender, masculinity.

Atkinson reveals his own painful coming out story and shares his personal battle with shame, bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts, and shows how he found support, inclusion and acceptance as part of this gay sporting team. His story provides the emotional context for the film as it seems to be something of a universal experience. During the film Atkinson focuses on three other members of the team and shares their stories. American born Drew McDowell plays a fiercely competitive game of rugby, but off field he is also a drag queen and has an extroverted personality. Simon Jones is more sensitive and reflects on his own painful experiences when he came out as gay. And then there is the team’s inspirational head coach Nic Evens, a female who had to battle against the prevalent misogyny and sexism in this man’s world of sports.

And while the Steelers were ultimately denied a fairy tale finish at the Bingham Cup, this documentary is a poignant, uplifting, affirming and still entertaining film that delivers a powerful and important message about acceptance and discrimination.

Steelers: The World’s First Gay Rugby Club is streaming on Amazon Prime

Greg King

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