From The Vaults

10 January 2022
Proud To be A Steeler

It's November 1995 in Central Station Pub, King's Cross, London. Six men are sat around a table, excitedly discussing plans to create the first rugby club of its kind. Every one of them has a shared dream-to establish a safe environment for men to play rugby, where players can participate regardless of sexual orientation, race, or age. Fast forward twenty six (and a bit) years and the Kings Cross Steelers (KXS) continue to champion inclusion and diversity as the world's first ever gay inclusive rugby club.

That meeting in Central Station pub would prove poignant not only in solidifying the group's intentions to form an LGBT+ team, but in giving the club its name. Following the 1995 meeting, the six founding members sent a callout for rugby recruits. An advert was placed in 'Capital Gay'-a weekly, free gay newspaper published in London-which successfully attracted a number of players and interest, including the endorsement of Lord Robert Hayward, former MP and the club's first Chairman and President.

After establishing a team, the Steelers (KXS) sent out over 100 letters looking for fixtures. The club would find fourteen teams up for the challenge and the Steelers embarked on their campaign to compete in a local league. Their first few games were tough with the squad suffering gruelling defeats, including a 92-10 loss to Orleans Former Pupils in September 1996. The team trained tirelessly, keen to make a strong first impression. Although, the newly formed Steelers were overwhelmed by the more seasoned sides and the pressure playing under the media's watchful eye.

In April 1996, The Daily Telegraph wrote an article on the club's sceptical future, describing the 'world of homosexual rugby football…a little known one' that looked likely to 'stay that way' unless the Steelers were able to find 20 teams willing to play against them: the number of fixtures a new team requires before being officially recognised as an RFU club.[1] The great media interest that surrounded the KXS also caused trepidation to spread among the club's leadership; they feared a homophobic reception if they disclosed the whereabouts of their first match. The fear was prevalent enough for the details of the fixture to be withheld from even the players until hours before match day.

As time passed, the Steelers' performance improved and any concerns around the club's future were dispelled. The club clinched their first win against Essex side, Braintree IV in January 1998, boosting the team's moral and leading to a more invigorated squad. The team would go on to secure several other wins and a notable victory over the Manchester Village Spartans in the world's first inclusive tour staged at Manchester Mardi Gras Festival, August 1999. As more LGBT+ inclusive teams formed, the international gay rugby scene emerged and the Steelers' would prove a threat on the global inclusive rugby stage.

The KXS have enjoyed great success throughout The Union Cup's (Europe's largest biennial LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament) history. The club were consecutive Cup Champions from 2007-2017 and have dominated other categories in the tournament, picking up the Challenger Bowl and Union Shield in Dublin 2019. The Steelers have also proved themselves as constant frontrunners on the world stage, placing second twice in the 2002 and 2008 editions of The Bingham Cup: the biennial world championships of gay and inclusive rugby.

The Steelers' accolades haven't stopped at international silverware. In 2019, the club picked up awards at the Pride of Sport Awards and the Guinness National Rugby Awards for Male Team of the Year. Their work championing diversity on and off the field has garnered them great attention in the rugby community and they have recently found further fame through the critically-acclaimed film, Steelers.

Despite adversity and challenges faced as rugby players and members of the LGBT+ community, the KXS have become a force to be reckoned with in the rugby community. With international trophies, national awards and a film under their belt, who knows what else the future has in store for the trailblazing Steelers.

[1] Trying Hard, Rennie David, The Daily Telegraph (London, England), 05.04.1996

Visit the Exhibition

Proud To Be A Steeler celebrates the world's first inclusive rugby club, the Kings Cross Steelers. From the club's inception in November 1995 to the emergence of the international gay rugby scene, the exhibition shines a light on the club's achievements to date. With a stiletto trophy and international silverware taking centre stage, this exhibition is not to be missed!