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Six reasons why Marcus Rashford is a hero on and off the pitch

In recent months, Marcus Rashford has become a household name in the UK due to his tireless and inspirational campaigning against food poverty among children.

With the COVID-19 pandemic heaping immense social and economic strain upon the UK, Rashford’s actions have been a vital ray of positivity; a timely reminder of the remarkable change that can be enacted through optimism and togetherness.

But beyond the Free School Meals campaigning, Rashford is an inspirational figure for a number of reasons. A hero to Manchester United supporters for his magic on the pitch, and the perfect role model off it due to his work-ethic, altruism and humble attitude, he is an icon for young people who want to make a positive difference. As we emerge into a troubling post-pandemic world, our society will benefit from the outstanding example he sets.

HUMBLE UPBRINGING

Rashford comes from a humble background. He has spoken openly about the struggles with poverty that his family faced while growing up in Wythenshawe, Manchester. His mother, a single parent, frequently had to work several jobs to provide for her children, and would occasionally miss out on meals to avoid Marcus or his four older siblings going without food.

These experiences have moulded him into the person he is today, equipping him with the will to succeed and acting as a driving force behind his altruistic campaigning.

FOOD POVERTY

His campaigning against food poverty has galvanised and inspired a nation. When COVID-19 began to heap misery on the UK’s poorest, Rashford stood up and was counted, linking up with food poverty charity FareShare to provide meals to children in Greater Manchester who were no longer receiving free school meals.

The partnership’s initial target was to support 400,000 children in the region, but after funds of over £20 million were raised in a remarkably short space of time, it branched out of Greater Manchester and took on a nationwide focus.

15 June saw the footballer write an open letter to the UK government, imploring them to put an end to food poverty among children. The following day, a change in policy was announced, with free school meals extended throughout the summer holidays. It was Rashford’s perseverance and philanthropy that triggered the change, proof that positivity holds the key to progress. He now has his own organisation- End Child Food Poverty- which works to ensure that no child goes hungry.

A MANCHESTER UNITED LEGEND

Rashford’s football story encapsulates the phrase ‘hard work pays off’. A lifelong lover of the sport, he signed for local club Fletcher Moss Rangers at the age of five, and according to academy development officer Dave Horrocks, was on a different level to the other players.

At seven years of age, he joined Manchester United, a decisive moment in his journey towards success. United cultivated Rashford’s talents to the point where at 11 years old, he became the youngest ever player to be selected for the Manchester United Schoolboy Scholars scheme, a scheme usually reserved for players 12 and above.

His debut came in a UEFA Europa League match against FC Midtjylland, a fixture in which Rashford’s second half double helped the team to a 5-1 victory. He has since gone on to score 51 goals for the club, many of them coming in vital matches, such as in the derby game against Manchester City FC. A hero among the supporters, the flag pictured below encapsulates their adulation for him: ‘Like Manchester, Rashford is red’.

AN ENGLAND STARLET

But it is not just United for whom Marcus Rashford has excelled. His international career for England, although in its early stages, is already a major success story. Put simply, Rashford burst onto the international scene, breaking Wayne Rooney’s record of becoming the youngest ever player to play in the European Championships.

His first competitive goal came on 4 September 2017 against Slovakia, in a qualifying match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The goal and performance typified his mental fortitude and will to win, as in an earlier part of the game, Slovakia took the lead due to Rashford conceding possession. But rather than letting the mistake fester and give rise to nervousness in his play, he single- handedly brought England back into the fixture, providing an assist for the equaliser and firing home an accomplished strike for the winner.

To date, Rashford has amassed 11 goals in just 40 appearances for England, a number bound to rise as his career travels evermore skyward.

IMMIGRANT BACKGROUND

Rashford is of Kittian descent, with his grandmother hailing from the Caribbean island of St Kitts. Alongside a host of outstanding English footballers of Caribbean origin, such as Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and Ruben Loftus- Cheek, he is symbolic of the role that Caribbean immigration has played in shaping modern day Britain.

In an era where the Windrush Scandal has seen people of Caribbean heritage wrongfully deported due to unjust immigration policies, it is hugely emboldening to see descendants of the Windrush generation lighting up the world stage.

BLM CAMPAIGNER

Food poverty is not the only socio-political issue that Marcus Rashford has taken a stand on. Last summer, when the unlawful killing of George Floyd sparked Black Lives Matter protests on all four corners of the globe, Rashford joined the widespread campaign against racial inequality and injustice.

The Mancunian took to Twitter to write: ‘At a time I’ve been asking people to come together, work together and be united, we appear to be more divided than ever. People are hurting and people need answers. Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter.’

Given that football fans have been targeted by right-wing groups such as the Football Lads’ Alliance in recent years, it is hugely evocative to see an icon of the game condemning racism in such a bold manner. One can only hope that such gestures encourage young supporters everywhere to learn more about racism, and in doing so, sow the seeds for a more tolerant future.

Marcus Rashford is a remarkable young person. During the darkest of times, he has been a figure of hope, and a symbol of human decency. Going forward, his message will be key in forging a benevolent society amid hugely testing circumstances.

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