UNESCO advocates that sport serves as an engine for change, development and equality. The organization says that sport is one of the instruments that, at a lower cost, can have a great social impact in humanitarian projects and in the fight against poverty. Manchester United’s England striker Marcus Rashford is one of the key players in today’s footballing landscape. His origins have marked the legacy he is leaving behind.
Humble beginnings located more than 8km from where Rashford currently plays the lead role in Manchester United’s play every weekend: Old Trafford, or more romantically known as the “theatre of dreams”. Five miles from the Red Devils’ stadium, on the southern outskirts of the industrial city of Manchester is Wythenshawe, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the metropolitan area of the English city. This is where our protagonist grew up.
To understand Marcus’ level of social involvement we have to go back to that part of Manchester. A slum made up of social housing, the area with the highest rate of social housing in Europe, and with the highest rate of crime and poverty in the UK. Rashford is the youngest son of five siblings who were raised solely by their mother Melanie in the southern Manchester suburb.
Rashford’s mother had to diversify, finding several jobs to be able to raise and feed her children. She looked for another job on the weekends, so that she could supplement her week’s wages since she was earning minimum wage and could not feed her children. And yet she still didn’t get enough, and there were several days when she herself had to not eat so that her children would eat. Rashford was aware of all this in his youth, knowing that if there was no food on the table it was not for lack of effort on the part of his family, but for a greater cause: an intrinsic problem in the construction of society and its system.
Melanie had a goal, she saw the football potential that her son had and wanted by all means that he could enter a football academy in the city so that he could develop in a proper way, with a balanced diet and an environment away from the problems of the neighborhood where he was growing up. So he insisted and insisted and Rashford ended up joining the Manchester United academy at the age of 11 although access was for those over 12. Melanie had done it: she had a future for her son.
Rashford’s adventure with Manchester United and with football was beginning to be written. At the age of 18 he made his debut with the first team in the second leg of the first knockout round of the Europa League against Midtjylland. He scored two goals which made him Manchester United’s youngest goalscorer in European competition (a record snatched away from him by Mason Greenwood in 2019). Three days after his brace, he made his league debut against Arsenal, scoring twice and assisting an assist to give the Red Devils the win. He made his debut for the national team and within two minutes of coming on he had scored his first international goal at the age of 18, becoming the third youngest player to score for the senior side behind only Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. A boy touched by a wand. And that today, at the age of 23, he is the star, the number 10 of his lifelong team, Manchester United.
A black boy, from a foreign family, raised in the suburbs of Manchester being the hero of half of Manchester and much of England. But Marcus Rashford’s story and legacy is much bigger than football. Rashford had a clear idea in his head: that no child in England should go through the hardship and hunger that his family went through to get him to where he has got to. Once he made a name for himself in the Premier League, he used his influence to help and be a voice for the underprivileged who have little voice in society:
“As a black man coming from a poor family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another number in the statistics. Instead, thanks to the generosity of my mother, my coaches, my family and my neighbours, the only statistics I am associated with are goals, games played and caps. It would be an injustice to my family and my community if I didn’t use my voice and my platform to fight this.
His crusade to alleviate and defeat child hunger began in fateful March 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus boom. England’s schools closed and all those children with less resources, as Rashford once was, were left without the help that the state gave to schools and families to feed themselves. The England striker protested and fought this inequality through his social networks until he managed to score his first goal against Boris Johnson’s Conservative government: free food for the most disadvantaged young people. He also aligned himself with the NGO Fareshare, which was precisely in charge of being a food bank for these underprivileged families.
Marcus Rashford’s second win for the government came months later. She posted a heartbreaking letter on social media pleading for the summer relief not to be suspended. The government had no choice but to give in again in the face of the massive support it received from the public, the football world in particular and the sporting world in general.
Knowing that this was a temporary and superficial solution, Rashford began planning a strategy to alleviate child hunger at its roots: the main objective was to demand government funding for free food programs or easier access to proper nutrition for students from poor families.
In October their initiative, which already had a chain on their own social networks to promote places where they offered free food, reached the Westminster parliament through a proposal from the Labour party. The Conservative Party, the current leaders of British politics led by Boris Johnson, rejected the proposal. Rashford pressed and quickly replied with a letter on twitter that quickly went viral.
That letter carried a lot of weight and the Conservative party had to backtrack and agree to a substantial increase in the amount of public money spent on tackling child poverty and hunger in the UK. After this, the Queen of England made him a Member of the British Empire, the highest recognition that can be given to a Briton.
Days later, after a win over Everton, the England striker revealed that he had had a telephone conversation with Johnson on the subject. Marcus’s initiative had reached the prime minister and had reached the whole of England. The boy from Wythenshawe had scored the most important goal of his entire career: a goal against child hunger.
Only good things happen to good people. And for Marcus Rashford, life still owes him many more nights of glory.