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It’s five years to the day since the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, which took the lives of 72 people in west London, and affected so many more.
To mark the anniversary, Luke Howard from our Community team spoke with Paul Menacer, a Grenfell survivor and lifelong Arsenal fan, to find out more about his story.
Paul has been working closely with our Community team ever since the tragedy, helping to coordinate projects, making sure that support is going to those in need, and running his own community football programme.
Luke: Firstly, could you tell us a bit about what Arsenal means to you?
Arsenal is part of me, it’s in my DNA. I cannot put into words what Arsenal is to me.
Everyone that knows me knows Arsenal are my life, no matter what the score.
Win lose or draw, I will always support and love them no matter what.
The amount of support myself and others who lived there - or were affected by Grenfell - have received is so special.
We live in west London, and a lot of people get the impression that means we would support Chelsea but that’s not the case.
I would say 60% of the football fans from the tower are Arsenal fans, so when Arsenal provided us with tickets for games throughout the season, they would go instantly by Arsenal fans.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Arsenal’s community team for all the hard work they’ve done in supporting myself and a lot of people affected by Grenfell.
We are in west London and they have gone above and beyond to do whatever they can to support myself and others.
For that I will be eternally grateful, and I am just so proud that I support a team as powerful and amazing as them.
Luke: Why did you decide to support Arsenal as a kid?
So when I was younger, most of my mum’s family from Ireland were all die-hard Arsenal fans. So it’s the Irish connection.
Growing up, I was supporting the likes of Ian Wright, and then when I started to get older and learn a bit more about football, it was the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry (who was my hero).
Henry is my favourite player of all time. No matter about Lionel Messi and all-that, Thierry Henry is the best player of all time.
Every month on the 14th day, there is a silent walk in the area immediately around Grenfell tower. The walk is a period of reflection and unity.
On the 14th of June there is a conscious effort to increase awareness, and to recreate that sense of community which was so important in the immediate aftermath.
Luke: Can you talk to us about the night of the fire, and how that impacted yourself and your community?
The night of the fire sent a massive shockwave through our community. We lost 72 people that night.
Five years on, we’re still trying to repair, trying to come to terms with what that happened on that tragic night on the 14th June.
It’s affected us quite instrumentally. We’re still in a position now where five years on, the support is not getting to certain people.
Mental health is still deteriorating as well. Support is not always getting to these sort of people.
One thing I will say is that I live in a community where it doesn’t matter about religion, race or nationality.
The one thing that Grenfell has done, is bring so many people from different backgrounds, different races together into a community.
There’s no other place like this in the world I don’t think.
It’s such a tragic thing, that something so devastating has happened to bring this all together.
All I can say is that I’m really proud to live in an area like this.
Luke: How did you first get in touch with Arsenal?
Firstly I just want to say thank you to everyone at Arsenal’s Community team for everything that they have done.
I sent an email to Arsenal, just because I’d literally just come out of the tower, and I had no clothes whatsoever - or anything like that.
The first thing on my mind was ‘oh no, my Arsenal tops have probably been burnt to bits, and I need to wear something Arsenal’.
It was a quick response from the people at Arsenal, and they were really supportive. I got to know them on a personal level.
I had a phone call and went down to the Arsenal hub to meet the Community team for the first time, and they told me their stories from the night of the fire.
How you (Luke) and Dan were there early in the morning with lots of stuff - anything you could possibly bring - to support the people that were affected. It was absolutely amazing.
Arsenal’s Community team - on a serious and personal level - they mean a lot to me.
To be honest with you we’re not really in their jurisdiction (outside of Islington), where they do a lot of work, but they’ve opened their doors to us.
Not just to me, but a lot of people affected by Grenfell and the local community.
They come down and participate not just in sessions, but also offer all sorts of tickets and experiences too.
It’s amazing to give people opportunities in an area like west London - where people would assume Chelsea are the main club around here.
Having the chance to go to the training ground, and being able to bring a lot of bereaved people and survivors, and volunteers that have done so much for us (the Grenfell survivors) was an amazing experience.
I can honestly say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Unai Emery I believe deserves a special mention…
We weren’t really meant to meet the whole team, but even though he’d just come from Spain and didn’t speak very much English - he made sure he brought the whole first team squad to come over and say hello, shake hands and take photos and stuff like that.
Some of the players were amazing too, Hector Bellerin starting the Go Fund Me page, supporting and giving the money to the British Red Cross.
Petr Cech was doing a lot to help my younger brother at the time too.
Obviously it was an amazing experience, and I don’t think anything would ever top that off, so thank you so much for that.
Luke: Can you tell us a bit about your local community football project, Minds United?
Minds United are a football club that is based in west London, very close to Grenfell tower.
What we do is that we work with people who have mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, people that have been sectioned in the local hospital to us.
We give them the opportunity to come out of hospital (if they are in there) to an environment where we make sure it’s as friendly as possible for them.
They can forget their problems, just for those couple of hours that they play.
We’re based in west London, but we open our doors to anyone in London to come down and participate.
All of our sessions are funded by local charities, so we never ask any player whatsoever to pay a single penny towards us.
We go to a lot of different tournaments and leagues all across London.
We went to Loftus Road (QPR’s home ground) and gave 650 people from the local area the opportunity to participate and play on the pitch there.
That sort of stuff is life-changing, and it can bring a lot of joy and excitement to someone who might not be in a great mental or physical state.
Being able to just walk onto a professional football pitch, giving people that opportunity to actually just experience walking on the grass. I know a lot of people dream about that.
QPR have been absolutely brilliant as well at helping, I have to say.
I just want to say again, I can’t reiterate it enough - thank you again to Arsenal for everything.
I’m absolutely die-hard fan, win lose or draw. Arsenal means everything to me. I live it. It’s in my DNA.
To learn more, and find out about how you can help support those affected by the Grenfell tragedy, please visit Grenfell United