‘Steelers’ is a feature-length documentary about London’s first gay rugby club which started in London in 1995. Following the club’s journey at the world’s biggest international gay rugby tournament, the Bingham Cup, the film explores the how a community joined together by their sexuality is transforming lives.
Told through the eyes of Australian television news reporter, Eammon Ashton-Atkinson, who moved to the UK to escape depression - ‘Steelers’ is a confronting and emotional, yet heartwarming story which explores themes of mental health, identity, misogyny and resilience.
The film’s narrative unfolds as the Steelers compete against 60 other gay teams in the Bingham Cup in Amsterdam - the World Cup of gay rugby.
First, we learn about the struggles of the director, Ashton-Atkinson. We gain insight into his own battles with being gay, including how he was outed at high school when a classmate secretly filmed them having sex and then showed the video at school.
Through the documentary he follows the journeys of three central characters.
The first is former international player for Wales and the club’s Director of Rugby, Nic Evans, who is fighting to overcome misogyny in a male-dominated sport. Nic shares how even in the gay world she is discriminated against because of her sex. Referees often don’t recognise her. Coaches from other teams assume she is the water girl.
The second character we meet is Birmingham rugby fanatic Simon Jones who only recently came out as gay. When a close childhood friend, whom Simon had fallen in love with, reacted badly Simon spiraled into a depression. Simon pulled back from everything he loved including rugby, but after stumbling across the Steelers, he was able to find happiness again.
The final character is prop turn drag queen, Andrew McDowell. Through his story the film looks at issues of identity and masculinity within gay sport. After organising a fundraising concert for the club one year, Drew discovered his love of drag, and ‘Drewalicious’ was born. Yet even in the face of pushback from people within the club, Drew shows us the most important thing is to be true to yourself.
Through these heartwarming, emotional and at times, confronting stories - we learn that everyone needs a place to belong and happiness can be found where you least expect - yes, even on a rugby pitch.