“I remember the sound of my mum crying herself to sleep. Having worked a 14-hour shift, unsure how she was going to make ends meet,” Marcus Rashford wrote to a British MP in September. “That was my reality.”
This MP is a member of Boris Johnson’s Parliament. He is a 55-year-old pro-Brexit Conservative. Sometimes compared to Donald Trump, he has a reputation for truth bending and brashness. He has also been called a calculated self-glorifier. Some may even call him racist, sexist and Islamophobic. There have been controversial statements in that regard. Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He represents Britain.
Marcus Rashford is a 23-year-old footballer. At the time of writing to the MP, he was 22. He plays for Manchester United. Has a reputation for scoring goals, running his socks off and helping feed poor kids. He has been universally accepted to be a humble man. Already a man. He is known to not differentiate and work for the betterment of all in society. There have been heartwarming actions in that regard. He equally represents Britain.
It is clear to see that Boris Johnson’s Britain is different from Marcus Rashford’s Britain. Chalk and cheese. Over the past year, angel and devil perhaps. One man uses racial excuses to keep poor kids hungry. The other man draws upon his struggles to find purpose. “Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose.” Not just a fancy quote on a mural in Manchester. But the palpability of actions carried out by a real life hero.
Marcus Rashford's reality
Perhaps the enormity of this will be better grasped with a little more context.
About a decade ago, a young boy finished his football training. On his way out, he was surprised by his mother’s smiling presence. It was one of those lucky days she could pick him up. A rare occurrence. On normal days, he would travel alone. Hardly a teen, he had memorised his bus routes. From far east of Manchester in the middle of nowhere. His destination every night was Wythenshawe – far south.
She had managed to finish her shift at Ladbrokes. Also, her two supplementary cleaning jobs. The two walked about half a mile to take the first of two buses back. On reaching Isherwood Road, she realised that the next bus was due in the morning. In the pitch darkness of night sat mother and child on a footwalk. No money, no idea and nothing to eat. The mother was scared. But there was no room for frighten. She had her little boy to give hope to. A very young boy with aspirations. This was Rashford’s reality.
Sometimes he would get a lift from his neighbour. Most often he would brave his heart to go it alone. From Wythenshawe to Carrington and back. Little Rashy. Big heart. And on stranded nights, they left it to luck. On the aforementioned occasion, a Manchester United staff member was passing by. Help and kindness. Two components irreplaceable in Rashford’s development. And key to the understanding of Rashford’s unshakable motivation.
Marcus Rashford vs Boris Johnson
It is important to understand Rashford’s childhood in fathoming the depth of his actions.
To us, it is heroism. To him, it is a natural function borne in harsh realities. Happenings his excellence has helped him overcome. At the same time, happenings he has not forgotten. Happenings very real. And still painfully occurring; still painfully ignored. Roots are very essential here.
Rashford was brought up in Wythenshawe. A place of disrepute. And reputations are hard to shake off. Here he was, a young boy of colour. The youngest of five in a family with only a mother. In a troubled neighbourhood. Here he was, playing alone till 10:30 in the night. His mother working as long as her limbs permitted. Only to realise it was still not enough.
Boris Johnson is a study in absolute contrast. He was born in East Upper Side of Manhattan in New York. His upbringing was meticulous with the assistance of au pairs. His pastime was spent fox hunting. He has never seen poverty. He has never experienced want. Wealthy in a world of the rich. Elite in a world of elitism. Powerful white man in a world dictated by white men.
Food was never a worry for the Johnsons. Not so for the Rashfords. Marcus would survive on his school meals. The ones provided by the state. There was a stigma attached to it. But stigma was the least of his worries. He was 10 years old and hungry. So were millions more in Britain. Unfortunately, so are millions today. Disastrously, the wealthy policy makers still look away. They looked away when the lockdown happened. They continue to look away. As poor kids go hungry, they play scrooge. That is England.
Marcus Rashford and a simple plea
Meanwhile, a 23-year-old footballer leads their crusade. Funded by the help and kindness of the other England. The working class. The fighters. The ones who have not been blinded by privilege. Putting food on the table for 2 million hungry children in England since March. When the lockdown happened and schools closed, nearly 2 million poor children would suffer. Schools were their source of meals. Stigma attached but only source. This, in a gist, is Rashford’s fight. The long of it. The short of it. That is his point. No child should go hungry.
Look at this child. Why should this child go hungy? Is it the child’s fault that there is no food on his plate? Marcus Rashford asked a simple question when the lockdown happened. He spoke from experience. He knew first-hand how difficult it would get. To hear your mother cry herself to sleep. To go to training hungry. And to stay hungry. How helpless it would feel. A young child feeling pain. Knowing not why. Knowing not what he has done to deserve it. Worst still, knowing not what to do to overcome it.
Rashford today is far removed from the hungry child. Years of labour, through all the difficulties has now gotten him to a different place. He is earning in millions in the world’s third wealthiest football club. Dons their number 10 jersey and is a football icon. Even if he does not kick a ball ever again, he will not see poverty. He is 23 and successful. The world at his feet. He does not need to do this. More importantly, he should not have to. But he wants to. His upbringing has taught him no other way. People of his age are enjoying life. Partying and having a good time. People of his age should not ideally have socialist thoughts. Definitely not when global uncertainty beckons. Yet, that is what Marcus Rashford’s reflex is.
Once again, roots are important here. And a third irreplaceable component – loyalty.
Marcus Rashford and his roots
Marcus Rashford does not forget his people and their kindness. His loyalty lies strictly to those who were with him from the start. When he did not have an MBE – Member of the British Empire – after his name. Marcus Rashford still goes back to the place he grew up. Still gets his favourite Hill's Strawberry Cream biscuits from the Raja Bros convenience store. He has a tattoo on his midriff depicting his first home and the green where he played football.
Rashford’s loyalty has been from a very young age. A knack of moving together. At 16, he was helping an injured Jimmy Dunne from Scotland feel at home in Manchester. Dunne had injured his hip and was resigned to a wheelchair. Marcus Rashford learnt driving and took him to Old Trafford so that he would still feel involved.
At 22, he helped his old academy friend out of depression. Charlie Scott had moved away from football. He became a construction site labourer with suicidal thoughts. Today, Scott plays football in Hong Kong. At 23, his friends are still those who he met at Button Lane Primary School. A school he is now helping fund an all-weather football pitch.
At 9, Manchester City wanted to poach him. At 13, they offered him a house and food. But he was bred in red. His loyalty, even then, was towards his club. Manchester United through and through. More importantly, human being through and through.
That is what sets him apart. Far, far apart. Loyalty to the cause. He has already forced PM Johnson into an embarrassing U-turn. What did he do? Kindness. Help. Loyalty. And a little bit of Twitter. Social media mileage courtesy of being excellent at his day job – playing football with distinction. And of course, unmistakable passion for a noble cause he feels deeply for.
Marcus Rashford and universal adulation
With Rashford, there is no PR or promotion. There is no catch. When his plea went unheard, he simply asked the PM to join him in talking to those who are suffering. He had already done his field work. When the U-turn happened, there was no self-glorification. Lost for words, Marcus thanked everyone for joining his campaign against child food poverty. He said, “THIS is England in 2020.”
Unfortunately, he did not get so lucky with the Conservatives in September. But, his undying passion has found following and alignment with his England. For nearly 9 months now, Marcus Rashford and his task force have been feeding over 2 million hungry kids. His work has impacted everyone of his people. Without divide. Manchester. Merseyside. Everywhere. Recently, when his football team visited Everton, they displayed a message that made him slightly shy. “Thank you for sticking up for our kids who needed a voice, here on Merseyside and across the country.”
Marcus Rashford is so popular for his work that he could become PM tomorrow. But that is not his end game. In fact, his only game is to play football by the day. And he is immensely good at it. Which begs the question - how does a 23-year-old manage the stress? On one hand, he is running the country. Very much against the wish of the establishment. Doing what they should be doing. On the other hand, he is playing for the most talked about club in the world. There is no day at Manchester United sans tumult. If your shin guards are not proper, it’s news. If you lose one game, it’s crisis.
Marcus Rashford the great footballer
Thus, it is nigh unbelievable that Marcus Rashford is simultaneously successful at two full-time gigs. In fact, his heroic crusade began when in rehabilitation himself. His back was hurting from carrying Manchester United. But his heartache for the children was of far greater magnitude. Untiring. Uunrelenting. Unwavering. Marcus Rashford continues to be an inspiration on the field. And when his footballing kin are resting for the next battle, he is helping out food banks. Hands on, with his mother.
It is not easy to make it at Manchester United. Not everyone can. In fact, most cannot. Charlie Scott did not. Marcus Rashford’s neighbour from Wythenshawe did not. Tosin Kehinde from his school did not. Not even world class potential is enough here. Ask Ravel Morrison. And Marcus Rashford hasn’t just made it. He is absolutely acing it. Week in. Week out. Cream of Manchester United’s crop. He has it all. Pace, power, the ability to thrill, hollywood daring and eventually, a glittering finished product. He contributes a goal to the team every ninety minutes this season. Groundbreaking.
Earlier this season, Marcus scored a Champions League hattrick in about quarter of an hour. But there was barely any self-proclamation. Very little mention of 3 goals. Nothing at all of doing so in 16 minutes. Instead, his Twitter feed was a glorious representation of something akin to utopia. A personalised thank you message to every city, town, county, neighbourhood and organization. Everyone who volunteered to join him in feeding hungry children. It was the best thing in the vast expanse of the internet. Kindness begetting kindness. The world of good in one place. Coming together to put smiles on the faces of children. To give them hope and a helping hand. Tell them that they are not alone.
Protect Marcus Rashford
But Marcus Rashford’s fight is not over. He will know it best. Being a Manchester United player, he will know crisis is always impending. He has taken on the powerfuls after all. Exposed the politicians. He has brought people together. And he hasn’t needed to wage war for it. One simply does not get away with good deeds in today’s world. He has already been called names.
One Conservative has already said Marcus Rashford's initiative is "nationalizing children". Another one opined - food vouchers "effectively" funnel money to "crack dens and brothels".
There will be more such calls. He is, after all, a working class footballer. One brought up without power and sans connections. In a society where establishment comprises powerful, white men. Those who do not like people of colour who have made it on their own, against them, against everything. And is now doing their job in uplifting those who need uplifting.
So, they will be waiting. Knives out. One slip and they shall strike. It is then our responsibility to have his back. And even if we do not, Marcus will worry little. Marcus has known struggle. Marcus has seen it all. He started 50 metres behind. Today, he stands miles ahead. Victorious. Battle-hardened. And with lessons learnt by little Rashy with a big heart. For every impending antiestablishment attrition, he knows exactly what to do. Head down. Work hard. Care for all. Take everyone along.
But most importantly, take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose. And that will always be Marcus’s reality.