Marcus Rashford MBE can expect standing ovations as fans filter back into football this month, for his outstanding achievements off the field. And rightly so!
It’s difficult to hear the England striker’s name recently without thinking of his campaign to stop child food poverty. It’s also hard to remember that he’s only 23 years old.
We’ve all heard about his wonderful efforts, but to summarise how busy he’s been since the Covid-19 crisis hit the UK:
March – teamed up with FareShare to deliver meals to children in Greater Manchester who had seen their free school meals/breakfast clubs stopped
March – surpassed his fundraising efforts enough to extend this initiative nationwide
June – wrote openly to the UK Government, asking them to reverse their decision to not extend free school meals
July – the scheme had helped four million children who would have been affected by food poverty
September – set up the Child Food Poverty Task Force alongside UK businesses
October – got an MBE for his tireless work, before setting up a petition to expand the free school meals program to include school holidays
October – following the Government’s decision to reject this proposal, he took it upon himself to tweet about people and businesses willing to help the FareShare campaign
November – the Government agreed to provide close to £400m in 12 months to support those in need of assistance to buy food and pay utility bills
Although he might not be the first footballer to do great things for charity and good causes, it’s the way he’s gone about his work that has made everyone stand up and take notice of this really important campaign.
It’s fantastic to see someone so young be so passionate about a cause that affects too many people in the UK.
Sometimes it takes a high profile personality to get a movement really started and in this case, Rashford has used his status as a Manchester United and England footballer for a greater good.
Let’s not forget also, that Manchester United have had their role to play in his freedom to do something like this.
Football is littered with red tape, robotic interviews and strictly-managed players. This is a pretty big step in the right direction not just by Rashford, but by football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been supportive of his striker’s humanitarian work and has praised his off-field efforts. He has also recognised that Rashford has been able to focus on the pitch.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? We’re not all saying how he can’t take the pressure of what’s going on away from football, because it’s not affecting his ability on matchday.
Marcus Rashford has always been a very talented footballer, and I think I speak for many people when I say he’s a rare Man Utd player who it’s acceptable to like!
He’s been great to watch in the last few seasons and there’s never been anything about him to suggest he’s not a really likeable all-rounder.
It’s not so many years ago we were all excited at the signing of Ashley Fletcher, because he was favourably compared to Rashford. Since the Man Utd striker’s debut up until their more recent struggles, it’s clear to see they’d be a lesser team without him.
He comes across as someone who is very humble and almost embarrassed by the attention and praise that his achievements have brought along with them.
He’s been asked about his charitable work in pre and post-match interviews, his teammates have been questioned about his story and commentators can’t stop waxing lyrical about him.
This all stands Rashford in good stead. His ability to continue to perform well for Man Utd and England has probably helped him to take the off-field work in his stride.
Had he not been performing well on the pitch, of course we’d still applaud his efforts, but there would be an undertone of ‘maybe he should concentrate on the football’ about the press coverage.
We all hope that more stars of sport will follow suit and turn their voices into actions. A lot already do, of course, but too often sportsmen and women are in the eye of the media for the wrong reasons.
What Marcus Rashford has done is pave the way for high profile people in the world of sport to know that they can really bring good causes to the forefront of people’s minds and even into politics.
To keep the good work going, West Ham has also played its part in the local community recently. The club does have a longstanding reputation for helping out in local areas, and this time has taken Marcus Rashford’s initiative to east London.
Co-owner David Sullivan donated money to the Newham Foodbank as they needed a new delivery van. This added to £3500 that he gave to the charity to cover money they would have collected from fans at the end of last season.
Declan Rice and Mark Noble have also donated personally to the same cause.
Charitable work isn’t always about donating money. Obviously, it’s one of the main resources that most causes require, and so many of the highest paid players in the world give an immense amount to these causes: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba, David Beckham and Mario Balotelli are all names that spring to mind.
But what we’re seeing now is that actions, along with a nice injection of cash, go a long way. Raising awareness by doing something, rather than just talking about it, is a huge benefit in more ways than one.
We all remember the genuine friendship that Jermaine Defoe struck up with young Bradley Lowery, who was suffering from a rare form of cancer.
The selfless actions that Defoe took did so any things for Bradley himself, his family and the charities involved. It’s this type of display of unity that narrows the gap between footballers and fans.
Also notably in recent years, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs opened up the Manchester Stock Exchange building to local homeless people, allowing them to stay whilst planning permission was being sought. Again, it’s a gesture of humility that did open up people’s eyes to the struggles that those less fortunate face.
In 2017, Juan Mata became the first player to donate to the Common Goal initiative, encouraging footballers to donate 1% of their salaries to a fund, which is then split between various football charities around the world. There are now just over 200 members consisting of players, managers, staff and organisations. Mata has been an active advocate of the movement and continues to shout for the cause.
Bringing us back up to this year, Jordan Henderson lead the #PlayersTogether initiative, raising money for the NHS. At the forefront of many people’s minds in 2020, Henderson made sure that the players around him were actively donating to the NHS charities, and creating a domino effect of measures.
All of the above examples show us that footballers can have a huge impact on causes that matter and they can inspire their colleagues and fans to do the same.
What Marcus Rashford has done is nothing short of remarkable. The admiration fans will show him throughout December and beyond just goes to show that there is still a connection between football supporters and the players they idolise.