Rugby is for all

Rugby Blindside recently spoke with Kings Cross Steelers RFC. They told us about the inspiring story of their club and the fantastic work they do with the LGBTQ+ community.

When you think of the word community the immediate associations may be things such as one’s neighbourhood, school, or workplace. For others, the community that they are involved in is their sports club. The Kings Cross Steelers RFC is a perfect example of what a community represents and how a rugby club can be an example of hope in the darkest of days.

In 1995 a group of 6 men in a pub just a stone’s throw away from Kings Cross station, decided to form the Kings Cross Steelers in an environment that was still hostile towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. Section 28 was still in effect and the representation of professional LGBTQ+ athletes in sport was limited to a handful of people within the UK and global sports arena.

The founding of the Kings Cross Steelers was to provide a safe space for Gay & Bisexual men to play a sport they loved and prove, through their endeavours on the pitch, that they were equal to any mainstream team. Through many years of playing against squads in the RFU merit tables and leagues, the Kings Cross Steelers have proven to many that rugby is for all and there is very much a space for the International Gay Rugby community.

In 2019 the Kings Cross Steelers were recognised for continuing to break new ground both on and off the pitch in the 2018/19 season and were rewarded by being named the Male Team of the Year at the Guinness National Rugby Awards. The Steelers overcame competition from fellow finalists Carlisle, Honiton, Market Harborough, Reeds Weybridge and Ross-on-Wye to win.

The Steelers also made their mark on the pitch with the 1st XV holding their own in their first season in London Three Essex after achieving promotion. Over the last 25 years, the club and global IGR community stand as a beacon of inclusive sport, linking communities across the world through their passion for the sport.

The Steelers have over 250 members in a normal year, four playing squads, and an army of new recruits each September trying rugby for the first time through our Pathway to Rugby programme.

This does not mean that the challenges faced 25 years ago have improved. A recent study by Australia’s Monash University, which was backed by Premiership rugby club Harlequins concluded that 69% of males from rugby clubs in the South of England said they had heard teammates use homophobic slurs. Amongst the players studied 42% admitted to using it on the pitch and 31% had been targeted on the pitch with it, which proves there is still work to be done.

Any rugby club exists for its members and 2020 has demonstrated how vital community and person to person interactions are to our physical and mental health. Having a group of like-minded individuals who have had shared experiences as they grow up around us is something, we can all appreciate the benefit of. The last few months have been increasingly challenging for members of the club and in a survey taken of our members during the recent lockdowns, 40% of them admitted that their mental health had suffered during the lockdown along with their physical fitness. This is a staggering amount and one which led to the club to work tirelessly to bring back rugby for the members. Working within the government and RFU restrictions the club managed to provide meaningful rugby-based activity that saw 60 plus members participate in, per session. In addition to these training sessions, the club organised a Touch Rugby tournament for members which coincided with the club’s 25th anniversary.

One thing that is most striking about the club, as with any club is that every member has a different story. We have all come from very different backgrounds and everyone’s experience in the rugby community and within the LGBTQ+ community has been different, but the most important thing is the camaraderie on the pitch and off it. The club has been able to encapsulate the best aspects of rugby and pass these values to the players throughout the years. The coaches, the supporters, the committee members and all those people who work behind the scenes to make sure the club function are the backbone to the club community.

What I have personally seen in my years at the club is the fantastic way people pull together in different circumstances to make sure the club is seen in its most positive of light. There is very much a one-club mentality at the Steelers and an enormous sense of pride each time we put a jersey on and play for our club. We think about the players who have gone before us and who so fearlessly started the club 25 years ago in the face of so much unpleasantness towards the LGBTQ+ community. We think about the players who are yet to start playing but who will stand on the pitch in 25 years’ time and hope that they will be filled with the same amount of pride as we have now each time we represent our club and the LBGTQ+ community.

We think about how initiatives such as the Rainbow Laces campaign and working with our charity partners the Terrence Higgins Trust, we are shining a light on issues we care about deeply about, but at the same time are giving something back. We also think of the wider rugby community that has embraced IGR and supported us along the way specifically the RFU, Essex Rugby, Out For Sports and Sports Media LGBT+ along with teams such as Harlequins and players such as James Haskell who proudly marched in solidarity with the Steelers at 2019’s Pride in London.

This year has proved that being part of a community has never been so important and the rugby community is one of the most passionate, most welcoming but above all one of the most inclusive communities. Rugby really is for all.