The Steelers have heard that the players on the East London Rugby Club have taken some kidding for loaning the Steelers their practice pitch. "We've heard teams telling them, 'Ah, those poofters are taking the mickey outta you,' " says Hayward.
Heterosexuals are welcome on the Steelers' roster—and a few heterosexuals with speed, size and skills would be more than welcome. The first entry in the Steelers' constitution under "Aims and Objectives" says, To provide the means and facilities for gay and bisexual men to play rugby. It doesn't ban participants who are straight. A heterosexual might very well find himself at home with the Steelers, who can be as mindlessly politically incorrect as the next batch of blokes. Or a straight person might feel a bit uncomfortable, just as Galley and other Steelers felt uncomfortable on other clubs. But Hayward defends the club's organization along sexual-preference lines. "Rugby is an athletic and social endeavor for like-minded individuals," he says. "This club is as legitimate as any of them, perhaps more so."
Hayward was one of " Thatcher's children," as the Tories who were swept into Parliament in 1983 were called because they supported the Conservative policies of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Hayward was married at the time, and during his nine-year tenure as an MP he never publicly identified himself as a homosexual. Even his parents back on the small family farm near Oxford—you can't be much more of a farm boy than to be from a farming family from Farmoor—didn't know. Says Hayward, "I have a severe case of that British restraint."
By the time he was voted out of office in '92, however, his marriage was history, and so was some of that restraint. He began frequenting gay bars and became active in Stonewall, a gay rights organization named for the New York City gay bar where a riot in response to police harassment launched the movement in the U.S. in 1969. When Hayward saw an announcement in a gay publication calling for rugby players, he knew he had another cause. Rugby was in his blood. During his playing days he was, as he puts it, "a rather ropey left wing," limited by poor eyesight, below-average speed and battles with multiple sclerosis, a disease from which he still suffers. But while he was in Parliament he was a top-level touch judge (the counterpart of a head linesman in American football), meaning that he held two of the most unpopular jobs in Britain at the same time.
The Steelers' organizer, Allan Taverner, a fan of that rough-and-tumble team in the Steel City, eventually took a new job and moved out of London. And so Hayward, the suit-wearing, bespectacled Conservative, the guy who looks like every button-down straight man in a Monty Python sketch, became the logical person to lead the Steelers in their first season, the man to sidestep the political rough spots, schmooze the right people and handle the tabloids. One, the News of the World, took particular glee in announcing the existence of the Steelers under the headline IT'S HARLE-QUEENS!, a play on one of Britain's best known teams, the Harlequins.
The Steelers have taken their lead from the now-out Hayward. As Andrew Manley, who heads the Surrey union, says, "The Steelers have set their stool out fairly clearly." But it's also true that they do not swing that stool. They don't get in anyone's face, they don't distribute gay pride leaflets, they don't conduct postfixture seminars on Oscar Wilde.
"I think the main reason we are accepted is that we are not—how do you say it?—very camp," says Nicolas Revel, a speedy back from France who is one of the Steelers' two best players. Club colors are blue and green. "I wouldn't have played if they were pink," says Samuel-Smith. The Steelers show up, they play hard (albeit raggedly), and they drink beer with the opposition, a rugby tradition definitely observed more in the practice than in the breach.
"We emphasize to our new players that we are here to play rugby, not pick up men," says Lee-Heung, who has a relationship with Steelers treasurer Patrick Cracroft-Brennan but says he would not get involved with a playing member of the club. "That might compromise my decision-making on the pitch," he says.
Most of the Steelers are proud that they have, as Galley puts it, "made a little point without turning it into a big crusade." And they are even prouder now that they've won a few times. Before their first victory, on Jan. 31 against the Braintree Fourths, a few of the team's better players had grown frustrated at losing game after game. Revel would not have his picture taken with the club—not, as one might expect, because he was hiding his homosexuality but because he didn't want to appear to be content to be playing on a losing team.
"I think it is important what we are doing," says Revel. "But now that we've actually won some games, it's important and also a lot more fun."