VOD film review: Steelers: The World’s First Gay Rugby Club
James R | On 16, Apr 2021
Director: Eammon Ashton-Atkinson
Cast: Simon Jones
Watch Steelers online in the UK: Amazon Prime
“I’ll never forget this rugby season. It saved my life.” That’s the sound of sports making a real difference in Steelers. The documentary introduces us to the Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby team, founded way back in 1955.
The movie follows the team as they prepare to compete in the Bingham Cup, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ rugby tournament. But inside that ostensibly familiar sporting structure is a beautifully uplifting piece of cinema. Who says you can’t be an ace rugby player and a fabulous drag queen? That question in many ways serves as the mission statement for director Eammon Ashton-Atkinson, who explores the ways that sports – and, specifically, the sense of belonging that being part of a team can bring – overlaps, informs and is informed by each member’s identity.
Ashton-Atkinson understands that better than most; the journalist joined the club several years ago when he moved to London, and it led him not only to a group of friends but also a husband. Injured just before the cup, he instead picked up a camera and captured everything leading up to the contest instead. His access and the intimate handheld approach – backed up by his own candid testimony – set the tone for a welcoming, honest 90 minutes.
In 2021, the existence of the Steelers team may not seem like a remarkable thing, with lots of LGBTQ+ rugby clubs across the country and around the globe. But this is something to pass on to each new generation, an inspiring celebration of love and acceptance, and finding solidarity and inclusivity in the way that sports turns everyone on the pitch into equals. There’s a confidence and camaraderie in the resulting display of teamwork and support, one that balances out the poignant accounts of personal histories and experiences of others’ prejudice to create something wonderfully life-affirming.
Steelers is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
This review was originally published during the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.