It is easy to criticise football. At one end of the scale Paul Pogba, of Manchester United, is the highest paid footballer in the Premier League. He is paid £290,000 a week. It takes him six hours to earn what I earn in a year. At the other end of the scale 60% of Premier League footballers go bankrupt within five years of retirement due to lack of forward financial planning.
With this in mind it is good to give credit where credit is due. Queens Park Rangers, the club at which I am chaplain, organised a charity match to raise money for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. Thousands of tickets were handed to those directly affected, including residents, relatives and volunteers. Jose Mourinho made a cameo appearance as a replacement goalkeeper. Survivors and fire fighters played alongside professionals and celebrities.
QPR were doing some basic things well. They were working with the community and not for the community and have been doing so for years. QPR in the Community Trust is a registered charity and works with young people right across the area [qprcommunitytrust.co.uk]. When the disaster happened relationships were already in place. A local Grenfel man had said to me soon after the fire “we are a proud community. Give us the tools and we will sort things out ourselves”. That is what Game 4Grenfel was doing.
QPR were avoiding the mistakes of disaster relief made by Live Aid (1984) of throwing money at a situation as if it were a problem to be solved rather than a community to be strengthened. The reason for the 1984 Ethiopian famine was not drought, but bad government. The country was torn by civil war; that is what stopped food getting through. There is evidence that charitable interventions, such as Geldof's Live Aid, may have prolonged the conflict, and therefore deepened the catastrophe. Similarly Grenfel and the surrounding community don’t need just sympathy and charity but political will to ensure that a similar thing will never happen again.
QPR has a role with its fans both in life and death. One in four football fans say that football is one of the most important things in their life. QPR was described as a prince among clubs for its memorial services and ashes scatterings for fans [www.scattering-ashes.co.uk]. Fans fly from all over the world to leave the remains of their loved ones with the club.
I am part of a network of sports chaplains who gathered at a parliamentary reception to celebrate 25 years of Sports Chaplaincy Sports Chaplaincy UK [sportschaplaincy.org.uk]. At QPR Rev Cameron Collington, my co-chaplain, and perform the ashes ceremonies and have contact with players, staff, directors and fans. We make ourselves available to those with all faiths and none. Across the UK there are 25 million men, women and children involved in sport. It is a mission field that the Church cannot ignore
I learnt of the power of sport to touch people’s lives in 2012 when I carried the Olympic Flame and was the focus of celebration across the world. On the day that I ran with the torch, a lady in the community who had been depressed for years chatted and laughed, as she had when she was a girl. The next day she reverted to how she had been before the day. I run 15 miles a week: 800 miles a year. Every 5 years I run over 2,000 miles (equivalent of coast to coast in America). I was thrilled at how QPR had harnessed the power of sport to touch those who had been affected by tragedy. Three months previously they had been escaping from a burning building. Now 18,000 fans were cheering them as they ran onto the pitch at Loftus Road. It was a great day.