Life & Style

‘Football is the best cure for anything:’ The club providing solace four years after the Grenfell Tower fire

By Ben Church, CNN

Tuesday June 14, 2022, marks the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster. This story from a year ago has been republished.

(CNN) – It’s been four years since the Grenfell Tower disaster; four years since a fire engulfed the residential building where 72 people lost their lives and hundreds of others lost almost every possession they owned.
It was a tragedy that shocked the UK — and the world — and tore a hole into the West London community in which the gutted tower still stands.

As the public inquiry into the fire rumbles on, that same community is left picking up the pieces, rebuilding lives, and doing its best to pull together to overcome the most unimaginable pain.

Rupert Taylor has lived in the area his entire life and, in the days following the fire, founded a football team that provided solace to some of those struggling to cope.

He worked in the first community center to open its doors in response to the fire. In the hours and days after the disaster, the center welcomed donations from the local community and was inundated with care packages.
It was there that he met a survivor from the tower, a young man who Taylor says inspired the creation of the team which would eventually become known as Grenfell Athletic FC.

“Over the few weeks, I befriended him and we went out for a couple of meals,” Taylor tells CNN Sport.

“He disclosed to me that he lost his parents a few years previously, only three months apart.

“I just asked him how he got through such a difficult period with his mum and dad passing […] and he said football. So I said to him, ‘Right, we’ll create a football team then.'”

‘Football has a marvelous way of connecting people’
In the four years since its creation, the team has continued to grow in size. Only those close to the community, affected by the tragedy, are able to join, but the squad has grown rapidly in size since the early days.
Its latest kit launch attracted attention from those at the very top of the game, with England captain Harry Kane being one of the sport’s biggest stars to wear the Grenfell green.

Now competing in the lower levels of the English football pyramid, the team continues to offer support to those affected by what happened on June 14, 201​7, while maintaining the legacy of those who lost their lives.
“Football has a marvelous way of connecting people, you can learn so much from football but about yourself. You get the camaraderie, but you also get the kind of individual aspects of football,” Taylor says.

“Both physically and mentally, football is challenging, but for all the right reasons.”
Like many players on the team, Kailume Alexander Harley Backer, 23, was in the area the night of the fire and watched as it rapidly made its way up the block of flats.

He says the world “didn’t feel real” in the weeks after but says having the opportunity to play football every Sunday was an opportunity to take his mind off things.

“The first couple of years, it affected me quite a lot, even to go to work,” Backer tells CNN. “I’m a dustman so I literally work on the streets around Grenfell. I would see it all the time, it would be so close to home.

“It still affects me now, just thinking of it, because it just brings back flashbacks. I lost a lot of people that I knew that lived in the tower. So having something like this, it kind of brings a cure to my mind.”
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‘I know what I’m playing for’

“I normally block it out the majority of time when I’m playing but we need to remember what we’re playing for,” Backer says.

“The badge is Grenfell Athletic and before every game, before I step on that field, I know what I’m playing for.”
The distinctive badge on the green kit has become a hallmark for the club. Taylor says a lot of thought went into the design, which sees a dragon wrap itself around a picture of Grenfell Tower.

“If you look at the origins of a dragon, you see that the dragon represents protecting precious items, it would protect gold, jewels, diamonds, just anything that the dragon saw as precious,” he says.

“Precious to us is Grenfell Tower, precious to us is our community. We wanted the dragon to wrap its way around the tower to ensure that it would protect the community, bereaved​, and the survivors of the tower.”

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