Rupert Taylor thinks he now understands what Bill Shankly meant when he spoke about life, death and the importance of football.

Taylor, 34, is the manager of Grenfell Athletic, the football club he founded in the aftermath of the fire that claimed 72 lives when it engulfed a West London tower block in June 2017, to offer some comfort and a means of expression for the community left behind.

As a Liverpool fan, Taylor is immersed in the spirit of Shankly and a belief that the game he loves can be a beacon of hope for people during their darkest hour.

“I think I've come to understand what Shankly meant,” said Taylor, who as part of Grenfell's pre-season preparations for a Middlesex County Football League campaign has taken his players on a tour to play teams from four of the country's fire brigades.

“Football has this unbelievable power. It's a game that can stop a war on Christmas Day.

“It somehow has the power to heal, to bring people together. In that respect, it's unique.

Bill Shankly once spoke about the power of football (

Image:

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“It's like the Battle of the 300. You hold your sword in one hand and you hold your shield in the other hand to protect the person beside you.

“When everyone does that together then that is the strongest you can be.”

Grenfell have already played games in Newcastle and Manchester.

On Sunday they face the Merseyside Fire Team at Bootle FC before a return to the capital brings an emotional meeting with the London Fire Service and the Red Watch firefighters who fought the blaze.

Taylor, who works with disabled children in his role as an Operations Manager for Westminster City Council, believes it's an important part of the healing process.

He once lived in Grenfell Tower. Nine of the children who visited the local youth centre he helped to run perished in the fire.

Grenfell Athletic were founded back in 2017

“I taught one of them how to ride a bike,” he recalled.

“There was another young man of 20, who I had known since the age of six.

“He died with his younger sister, his brothers and his mum and dad after running into the building to try to save them.

“Without this football team, I don't know where I'd be. It keeps me going because I have never really been able to focus on the reality of what happened.

“That's why this tour is an important part of the journey the players are on.

“They are connecting with the very people who ran into a burning building to save their lives and the lives of their families, friends and neighbours.”

Taylor is also keen to stress that Grenfell Athletic is about looking to the future.

Training sessions for a women's team will take place in October and there are plans in place to develop a youth system.

He also has a dream of taking the Grenfell philosophy into other areas of London.

Taylor said: “We're not politically driven. You will never hear us trying to lay any blame for what happened.

“We do want to keep the Grenfell tragedy in the hearts and minds of people.

“It's important that it's never forgotten because there are still thousands of households around the country who can relate to what it's like to live on the fourth, 17th or 24th floor of a tower block.

“But the club is about helping people live their lives.

“Guys have stopped drinking because they play for this team. Others have found jobs. All of them are forging friendships that will last a lifetime.

“This isn't about empowering people – I hate that phrase. It's about giving them the chance to unlock their potential.”