For all the negative press football and football supporters get, one couldn’t help but feel a little choked up on Tuesday night when the French and English national teams and their fans came together to sing Manchester’s anthem Don’t Look Back in Anger in an effort to remind the global community of football’s unifying spirit in times of adversity. The message of solidarity echoed the repeat fixture two years ago when both sets of fans sang La Marseillaise at Wembley in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Both equally horrifying events, both symbolic gestures of the communal grief felt on either side of the Channel.
Neither event, however, could have prepared us for what was to happen in North Kensington in the hours proceeding Tuesday’s fixture. A fire started in the early hours of Wednesday morning spread uncontrollably through the Granfell Tower apartment block, soon engulfing the 24 floors and some 120 homes. Three days on it is still unclear how many people perished in the fire, but estimates are that it may be in the hundreds. Questions over the safety of the building now hang in the air and as the community unites to find clothes, shelter and sustenance for the affected residents, the mood has started to turn from one of shock and disbelief to one of anger.
This afternoon an estimated 1,400 people marched on Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall demanding “justice for Grenfell”. The protests came as evidence mounted to suggest austerity and crippling government cut backs are at the heart of the disaster. Claims that fire-resistant cladding for Grenfell Tower would have cost just £5,000 have resulted in fury, and a lack of response from the local authorities has also accentuated the belief that there is a growing disconnect between the council and the community. In Gaby Hinsliff’s words, Grenfell was a shameful symbol of a state that didn’t care.
If more evidence emerges to suggest that there is a connection between government policy and the tragic events that unfolded on Wednesday morning then the public will have something they haven’t had in the previous disasters that have hit the nation; a target. Where individual, mindless acts of terrorism have resulted in solidarity and a clear prerogative to keep up our normal lives in spite of those who seek to disrupt them, this disaster may well do the opposite. Things now have to change and life cannot be allowed to go on as it was if we are to prevent it happening again.
As Les Nicholls so eloquently describes in this poem, in this instance, we do have a right to look back in anger.
LOOK BACK IN ANGER, a poem by Les Nicholls
Timber plastic concrete and steel
Burned with a fury that hardly seems real
Taking with it the old the young of varying races
Scenes etched on our minds of their terrified faces
Babies mothers husbands and friends
The names of the missing on a list without end
Look back in anger now with total disgust
Betrayed by those people in whom they should trust
This was no act of god this was utter neglect
This was a lack of compassion and social respect
Look back in anger at the warnings ignored
Shunned by their landlord to whom they implored
We are shocked as a nation as this horror unfolds
And full of emotion as the stories are told
We have seen religion and culture all put aside
United in anger for all those that died
A public inquiry will not bring back the dead
it will not help those people who need to be sheltered and fed
Look back in anger as they talk and debate
While anger and despair haunt those left to wait
Look back in anger at the political spin
But the anger now rises as our patience grows thin
This tragedy occurred in a land of prosperity
In a home for the poor besieged by austerity
This suffering was caused by ignorance and conceit
It was an avoidable horror we must never repeat
GOD BLESS ALL THOSE AFFECTED BY THIS TRAGEDY