“This isn’t a coming out story or a story about winning a tournament. Or even about being gay. It’s a story about searching for where you belong and never giving up…because you just might find happiness where you least expect it.”
So says Eammon Ashton-Atkinson the writer, director and narrator of “Steelers: World’s First Gay Rugby Club,” a new feature length documentary about the worlds first gay rugby club. After premiering at the New Zealand International Film Festival last July, “Steelers” is now streaming exclusively on Prime Video in the UK and Ireland.
The film does not shy away from tackling many serious topics including sexuality, gender, homophobia and the perception of masculinity. The film focuses on three members of the club as the club prepares to compete against 60 other gay rugby clubs in the 2018 Bingham cup in Amsterdam.
Simon Jones and Drew McDowell, are two key club players whose story are told in the documentary, along with inspiring female coach Nic Evans, herself battling sexism in the male-dominated sport. “The referee often doesn’t recognize me” Evans explains in the trailer for the film. “So I feel like I’m still needed to be validated by men” she continues.
Jones, discussed battling depression feeling at “the lowest of the low…just when I was about to walk away from rugby but something told me that rugby could still help you, then the club and this season probably saved my life.”
Breakout star of the documentary American McDowell aims to shatter perceptions of what being “masculine” means. Hard fighting during the day on the pitch, at night he revels in the spotlight as Coco Extra, his drag persona. Coco has also played an instrumental part in the teams fundraising.
What began in 1995, as six friends sat in a pub wondering if a gay rugby club could even exist, now 26 years later has grown and evolved so much – there are around 80 gay and inclusive rugby clubs worldwide. As the club formed and began to play they struggled to find teams that would even play them at first!
Writer-director Ashton-Atkinson’s own story is weaved thorough-out the documentary. Unable to play in the 2018 tournament due to a concussion he travelled with the team and shot the film over three weeks.
“I’m a reporter so I tell stories for a living, but I’ve never told one this personal. It’s the kind of story that I would have loved to have seen in my darker days. My wish is for this film to give hope to others who may need it, not just those struggling with their sexuality, but anyone doubting themselves. I hated sport growing up as a kid. But my Dad encouraged me to play rugby and without that, I never would have joined the Steelers, met my husband and found a place where I felt like I belonged.”
Ashton-Atkinson says he decided to make this story in response to the homophobic rhetoric spewed by Israel Folau, in his hell awaits gay people tirade.
“When I saw this Israel Folau thing blow up I was like, ‘You know what? I have to tell this story. His bigotry kind of inspired this film in a way and got it happening again. Because there are kids that are seeing what he’s saying and it might be affecting them, and I needed to counter that with this film.”
The film will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from 16 April. To watch it sign in or sign up to Prime for £7.99 per month or £79.99 per year at amazon.co.uk. Watch the trailer for the film below.