For those who weren’t aware of the name Marcus Rashford before the start of the lockdown, I bet you do now. Those of you that don’t, let me explain who this remarkable young man is. He has been a recent mainstay in the papers with a plethora of headlines throughout the week, and for very good reason.
Rashford plays for his boyhood local club, Manchester United, and represents England at international level. Shortly after his eighteenth birthday, the boy from Wythenshawe had realised his dream. He was named on the bench for the esteemed club for the first time. An incredible feat and something which many young boys and girls fantasise of during lunch-time kickabouts in the playground.
While his career is continuously advancing in leaps and bounds, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the 22-year-old. Rashford recently explained that while he was growing up as a working-class kid from Manchester, he had to live a childhood of poverty. But what does this have to do with using his football career to make change?
Rashford’s charitable lockdown
At the beginning of Britain coming to grips with the pandemic induced lockdown, Rashford teamed up with Fareshare; a charity that focuses on food poverty and the reduction of food waste in the United Kingdom. Predicting that the pandemic was likely to raise poverty levels and increase the number of people without food, the Manchester United marksman stepped in.
With the goal to raise £100,000 following a donation from himself, the attention that Rashford attracted snowballed. Several big supermarkets chipped in for the cause including a substantial £15m worth of food donations from Tesco.
In terms of monetary donations, it’s safe to say that the initial donation goal was breezed past. Rashford is used to hitting goals, it’s literally his job. The young Manchester United goalscorer had already, at such a tender age, clocked up a number of impressive achievements.
Rashford exploded onto the scene at United. Not only would he score twice on his Europa League debut against FC Midtjylland, he would also score a brace versus Arsenal, at Old Trafford, on his Premier League debut. Rashford’s debut for England’s under 21’s and the senior side, accompanied by his debut in the League Cup and Champions League, all followed in a similar vein. A host of goals as a debutant. Impressive.
Rashford’s debut venture into instilling change for people less fortunate? Another goal. His £100,000 goal now smashed. Fareshare received £20m of monetary donations alongside masses of food donations, meaning countless families fed. Marcus Rashford is a shining light for football and society in general. However, he wasn’t stopping there.
At the beginning of June, the British government declared that in one month, in July, they planned to scrap their free school meals voucher scheme. Ultimately, this would mean that over 1.3 million children in the United Kingdom would go hungry throughout the summer.
No child should have to go a day without having a decent meal, that’s obvious. Unfortunately, it happens across the globe, but it shouldn’t in England. We can fight that. That was Rashford’s mindset.
The free school meals voucher scheme helps millions of families living in the UK. With the difficulties that the coronavirus pandemic has served up, many more children face hunger as parents either lose their jobs or become furloughed.
At the start of this week, Marcus Rashford stood up for those 1.3 million children living in the UK. He gave them a voice. He was fighting for their right for a decent meal each day. He stood up for the countless parents who have had worries and anxieties about how they were now going to feed their children, knowing the scheme was scheduled to be scrapped.
Although Rashford has a successful career playing for a well-known Premier League club, a superpower in English football loved throughout the world, he was recently reminded of what it was like to live a life of poverty. Rashford could relate to all those children facing hunger because he once knew similar struggles. Him and his mum had been through it. Melanie had once struggled to make ends meet to feed him and his siblings. Ultimately, he knew just how vital those free school meal vouchers were.
Rashford took to Twitter to start a thread which became a significant step in making the U-Turn:
‘1 – When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about your parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown.’
2 – When you turn on your kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee think of those parents who have had to default on electricity bill payments just to make ends meet having lost their jobs during the pandemic.’
3 – And when you head to the fridge to grab the milk, stop and recognise that parents of at least 200,000 children across the country this morning are waking up to empty shelving.’
4 – Recognise children around the country are innocently questioning ‘why?’ 9 out of 30 children in any given classroom are today asking ‘why? Why does our future not matter?’
That last line is a line that will etch on many readers mind, ‘Why does our future not matter?’ Rashford was applauded from every corner of the playing field.
A Rashford inspired U-turn
It took a 22-year-old professional footballer for there to be a change, for the government to realise their mistake. Shortly after Marcus Rashford stood up for those poverty stricken families, the government made a U-turn.
Boris and company decided to extend their free school meals voucher scheme so that millions of children can continue to eat and continue to claim a fundamental human right.
Footballers often get slack for their extravagant lifestyles. Secretary of State for health and social care, Matt Hancock, recently cherry-picked the occupation and called for pay cuts across the profession, pleading for them to ‘play their part’ in helping with the pandemic.
Well, Mr Hancock, this Premier League footballer, has ripped up the script and used his status to create change. Rashford has spread the word that while the UK may not be a third-world country, it doesn’t mean its residents live free from poverty.
What would have happened if Rashford kept quiet on the subject? Simply, millions of children would have gone hungry. It is 2020, and it shouldn’t be happening. Rashford’s fight on poverty was backed by millions of people who recognise the positive change drummed up by the young man using his fame for all the right reasons.
This won’t be the last you see of footballers striding for change, and many are taking a step in the right direction for a better future. Raheem Sterling’s fight on racism for one.
Should Marcus Rashford be put forward for ‘BBC Sports Personality of the Year’ for his incredible efforts in raising awareness? Absolutely.
Feature Image: Reuters/Molly Darlington
Written by Maria Grech – @Maria_Valletta