UK

Grenfell bereaved and survivors unite on football pitch ahead of anniversary

Friends, family and neighbours gathered at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium for matches to celebrate the lives of those who died almost seven years ago.

Detail of a player’s shirt during the football match between Grenfell bereaved and survivors, at QPR’s Loftus Road
Detail of a player’s shirt during the football match between Grenfell bereaved and survivors, at QPR’s Loftus Road (Aaron Chown/PA)

The bereaved and survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster have come together in a celebration of their loved ones a month ahead of the seventh anniversary of the devastating fire.

Friends, family and neighbours gathered at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium not far from the west London tower block to “support the local community through the power of football”.

There is still a lack of accountability from those they hold responsible for the blaze that killed 72 people in 2017, one of the organisers of the Grenfell Memorial Cup said.

Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman was among those killed, said Tuesday’s event included 28 of the bereaved and survivors, the largest number to play in any of the three memorial cups held to date.

He said the Grenfell area has always been a “massive football community” and around 300 free tickets had been reserved for the event, with more people expected to turn up on the day.

Mr Mussilhy told the PA news agency: “It’s important that when we come together we’re not always remembering those who died (just) in this sad sort of way.

“We want to celebrate their lives and who they were through something that was so important to our community. For me personally, my uncle used to watch me play.”

Children’s games and matches between mental health-focused football teams Latimer Road Veterans and Minds United FC were played ahead of the main event.

Players and officials take part in a minute’s silence before the match
Players and officials take part in a minute’s silence before the match (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Mussilhy said: “Football and QPR, it’s a very personal thing for us and our community anyway, so it’s only right that we come in the name of those who died and celebrate their lives through football.”

Co-organiser Paul Menacer, a tower resident who survived the blaze, said he was “hugely affected” and that events like the football match had greatly helped his own mental health in the years since.

It gives players “something to look forward to, train for and work towards”, he said, adding that he hopes it can continue annually to help give people some joy at a particularly difficult time of year for the community.

Mr Menacer told PA: “I always think at this time of year, coming up to the anniversary, having this (football) event on a yearly basis is just something to look forward to and reminds us we are not going through these struggles alone. We’re here with our family, friends and loved ones.

“When it comes to the 14th of June I will just look back on this day and think ‘I’m surrounded by loved ones, family, close neighbours and friends’.

The match at Loftus Road took place a month ahead of the seventh anniversary of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire
The match at Loftus Road took place a month ahead of the seventh anniversary of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire (Aaron Chown/PA)

“It helps me with my mental health. I will remember that, as well as good times I had in the tower before the fire.”

A year ago, Mr Menacer and Mr Mussilhy met the Prince of Wales at the stadium, with William expressing sympathy about the community’s continued wait for justice.

Asked about the atmosphere as the anniversary approaches, Mr Mussilhy said: “It almost feels like we’ve got to where we are very quickly (in terms of time) but everything still feels very, very fresh.”

It was confirmed last month that the final report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry would not be published in time for the anniversary, with the inquiry team saying the “process of notifying those who may be subject to criticism in our report and considering their responses” is in its final stages but “has been significantly larger and more complex than we had originally expected”, having involved writing to some 250 people.

The final hearing for phase two of the inquiry, which examined how the tower block came to be in a condition that allowed the fire to spread, took place in November 2022.

The Prince of Wales (left) is presented with a shirt by Grenfell survivors and bereaved during a visit to Loftus Road, the home of QPR football club in 2023
The Prince of Wales (left) is presented with a shirt by Grenfell survivors and bereaved during a visit to Loftus Road, the home of QPR football club in 2023 (Aaron Chown/PA)

The report into phase one, which focused on the factual narrative of the events on the night of the fire, was published in October 2019.

It concluded the tower’s cladding did not comply with building regulations and was the “principal” reason for the rapid and “profoundly shocking” spread of the blaze.

Regarding the final report and the future, Mr Mussilhy said: “I’m hoping for the best but I’m expecting the worst because history has taught us that these things don’t necessarily tend to go our way.

“And when I say go our way, we want accountability. This is the United Kingdom.

“What happened at Grenfell should never have happened in this part of the world and the fact that it’s taken us seven years to come to any sort of conclusions – I mean we know who was involved.

“We can now paint a picture of who was involved and who was at fault but will the justice system fail us or will it do its job? I don’t know.”