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Review: Struggle, Acceptance, and Triumph in 'Steelers - The World's First Gay Rugby Team'

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 22, 2020
'Steelers - The World's First Gay Rugby Team'
'Steelers - The World's First Gay Rugby Team'  (Source:OUTShine)

Australian television news reporter Eammon Ashton-Atkinson had originally moved to the UK to escape depression. What he found was both love (with his future husband) and an opportunity to indulge in his favorite passion of playing rugby. He joined the Kings Cross Steelers in London, the world's first ever all-gay rugby team, and this completed his happiness.

Ashton-Atkinson had hoped to be part of the Steelers Team in 2018, when they were to take part in the Bingham Cup Tournament in Amsterdam, but an injury made that impossible. Instead, he accompanied the team with his camera, and what he filmed ended up being edited into this unplanned and completely delightful documentary.

Since 1995, when the Steelers were formed, a half dozen other gay rugby clubs have sprung up around the globe. They all meet every second year for the Bingham Cup Tournament, which is the equivalent of gay rugby's world cup. It is named after Mark Bingham, a gay American businessman and rugby enthusiast who died a hero on board United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Ashton-Atkinson is non apologetic from the start. This film is very personal; he says that this isn't just a story about being gay. It's not even a story about playing rugby. It's a story about struggle, acceptance, searching for happiness, and finding a place to belong.

The Steelers have never ever won the tournament, and under Nic Evans, their new director of rugby, they are determined to finally go home with the trophy. She is a former international player for Wales, but even in the gay world she is discriminated against because of her sex. Coaches from other teams assume she is the water girl.

The team's first match is against the current champions, the Sydney Convicts, but try as they might, the Steelers lose the match. However, their spirits soon rise again when they are victorious in their next two rounds, and head, for the very first time, to the semi-finals.

As well on focusing on Nic Evans, Ashton-Atkinson trails two of the players. The first is a rugby fanatic from Birmingham who has only recently come out as gay. Simon Jones is a sensitive soul who had fallen in love with a childhood friend who had rejected him. It sent him into a deep depression, and he literally withdrew from the world and became a hermit until he discovered the Steelers. Like everyone else in this film, Simon really comes alive when he gets to talk about how being part of the team has so changed his life.

The other player that Ashton-Atkinson focuses on is Drew, who loves to combine the rough and tumble on the pitch with slipping into something a little more glittery to become his alter ego, "Drewalicious." He discovers doing drag is as much fun as playing rugby, and helps him being true to himself.

As the team face off once more with the Sydney Convicts, they're hoping for a fairy tale ending — but that's just the icing on the cake, as they have already found community with one another. As Ashton-Atkinson summed it up, you just may find happiness where you never expected.

This completely unambitious film is a gem, and it is impossible not share everyone's infectious good spirits and sheer determination. It should be compulsory viewing for anyone on the cusp of "coming out," as it will give them so much more than hope.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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