Football as healing force for bereaved Grenfell families
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Football has been a powerful healing force for families bereaved by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, players at a memorial tournament said.
Queens Park Rangers are hosting the Grenfell Memorial Cup at their Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium in Shepherds Bush, west London, to remember the 72 victims of the blaze.
Celebrities including rapper AJ Tracey, Bafta-winning TV personality and rapper Big Zuu and comedian Mo Gilligan are among those playing, organisers said.
Co-organiser Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman died in the fire, told the PA news agency that events like the tournament help grieving families to keep “fighting for justice” – despite feeling like nothing has changed for them in almost five years.
Mr Mussilhy, who is part of campaign group Grenfell United, said families still do not have closure because no one has been held accountable for the tragedy.
He told PA: “Football has always been a massive part of our community.
“For me personally, I grew up playing football in the area; I still play football in the area.
“Football is such a huge part of where we live and our lives, and it’s just incredible to be able to bring it together over something so horrific (and) to be able to celebrate the lives rather than mourning them all the time.
“When you come here and you’re on the pitch with your teammates, for those 90 minutes everything else doesn’t matter – just the bonding and the unity that you have with your teammates on the pitch and it’s just such a magical feeling.”
Mr Mussilhy, a lifelong QPR fan, said playing at the Championship side’s stadium is a “dream come true”
Speaking about his uncle, he said: “I fell in love with football because of him, so to be here today and to celebrate him, it’s quite special.
“The last five years have been horrific and we’ve had no changes, no arrests and no accountability.
“We are still campaigning. We are still fighting for justice. We will do everything that we can to make sure that some positivity comes out of the death of our families.
“But unfortunately it feels like we’re not close to where we want to be.
“So it’s days like these that help us keep going; having the community and everyone behind you gives you the motivation to continue to fight for justice.”
Co-organiser of the tournament and a Grenfell Tower resident who survived the fire, Paul Menacer, 28, said football has helped him recover from the trauma.
He told PA: “(The Memorial Cup) is very, very important to me on a personal level because QPR were very supportive in the community for the past four-and-a-half years.
“My mental health is quite bad so just to forget about those problems for a few hours, I find it’s a really big stress reliever for me.
“Nothing has changed, we still want justice for the 72 people who passed away, there’s questions that need to be answered and I hope that through the inquiry people are held accountable.”
Meanwhile, Big Zuu described being part of the tournament as “more important” to him than winning two Baftas earlier this month.
Speaking with PA ahead of his game, Big Zuu, who lives locally, said he knew Grenfell Tower residents and wanted to show that people had not forgotten them.
When asked how marking the community event felt after winning two Baftas weeks before, he said: “Today is more important.
“The Baftas – it’s lovely to get an accolade like that.
“But caring about your local community is way more important.”
He added: “To see the community come out and to have QPR give us the place is so important to show that the love is still there, that we haven’t forgotten.
“Grenfell is still in our hearts.”
A series of five matches began at 10am, with friendly face-offs between players from Grenfell Athletic FC women’s team against workers from mental health groups, and a youth tournament.
Grenfell Athletic FC, which formed after the fire to support bereaved families, are playing local teams throughout the afternoon.
The finale at 5.25pm will be a 72-minute game between a team of bereaved and survivors against “Blue Lights” – key workers from the emergency services including London Fire Brigade.