The Manchester United player has made the British government bow three times in a year on the subject of food insecurity. Thanks to him, disadvantaged children were able to benefit from free meals during the school holidays.
“Show me a 7-year-old and I’ll tell you what an adult he will be”, the saying goes. But in football, you can never really know which children of this age will become professional players or not. In any case, when he remembers the child that was Marcus Rashford, there is one thing that Dave Horrocks, his first trainer, remembers very well.
When Rashford arrived at Fletcher Moss Rangers, a Manchester neighborhood club, he was a skinny 5-year-old boy. From the start he was the kind of kid who put all his energy into the field. Every time Horrocks drove him home after practice, Marcus would climb into the back of the car and immediately fall into a deep sleep. Once home, the child would jump outside, rested, pick up a ball and start training again on the patch of grass in front of his house.
Talent is not the only deciding factor
Horrocks, who in twenty-five years has seen hundreds of children parading through the club, knows a lot about the thin line between the two or three kids who will become Premier League millionaires from those who will stay on the aisles . Talent isn’t always the deciding factor and when it comes to the fate of aspiring footballers, Horrocks quotes former England coach Howard Wilkinson: “I believe luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”“This is exactly the type of luck Marcus has had throughout his career”, ajoute Horrocks.
He was able to seize the opportunities – he scored two goals in his first game for Manchester United [voir ci-dessous] and another after only three minutes of play in his debut for England – because he’s always been preparing for it. The same goes for the charitable work he is doing now. When the opportunity arose, he was ready. ”
If fate played a role in the success of the fight to change things the 23-year-old has been leading for the past year, it may have been in the form of the double back stress fracture that he has seen. is made in January 2020. He could not train for two months. The intense pace of physical preparation had been the constant that defined his life, and he suddenly lost his bearings.
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What would Marcus have done, at 7, in full confinement?
Over the course of a long email exchange, Rashford explained to me that he needed to concentrate “On something that would turn the negative into the positive and help those who need it most”. It’s as if this enforced break reminded Rashford how precarious his footballing life can be. Add to that the pandemic and containment, and you will have the genesis of his activism.
“When he heard that the schools were going to close, the first thing Marcus thought was: ‘What will underprivileged children eat?’ says Kelly Hogarth, public relations manager and friend of the player. ‘If they cannot go to school and the breakfast clubs [littéralement ‘clubs de petit-déjeuner’, où les enfants reçoivent un repas souvent gratuit avant d’aller en classe] are closed, what will they do? ‘” Implied: what would such a closure have meant to me when I was 7?
Rashford put all the energy he usually spent in his training to educate himself on the matter. In October 2019, he launched a campaign to distribute food parcels to homeless youth in Manchester, but the lack of effect of this action has greatly frustrated him. He then looked for a way to help on a larger scale, and the leads he was digging constantly led him to the organization FareShare, which distributes meals to 11,000 voluntary associations and neighborhoods.
Responsibilities inseparable from success
When approached with the idea of making a large donation, its president told him that the organization collects food from all stages of the supply chain, from the farm to the supermarket, and uses it as glue between all the other associations: a good meal in a football school during the holidays guaranteed to the children a food which they perhaps lacked at home. The more Rashford learned about this form of action, the more it echoed what he had experienced as a child, in a family of five children raised by a single mother.
The fallout from Rashford’s media call to arms for FareShare during the pandemic was immediate: fundraiser raised £ 20million [22,5 millions d’euros]. “In previous years, the maximum donation from the general public was £ 200,000, continues Lindsay Boswell, the CEO organisation.
The world of football is not only one of the most genuinely meritocratic in England: players there, like Rashford, are taught in small neighborhood clubs that responsibility to community is inseparable from success. . For Rashford, that includes the neighborhood where he was born, in the south of Manchester. The footballer does not need to be reminded that his glory rests on the multitude of small sacrifices made by the people around him. His best friends remain the two neighbors with whom he went to the breakfast club from their school. He has a tattoo on his stomach of the terraced house where he grew up, at the time one of the largest social housing complexes in Europe.
A ray of hope in a divided country
And above all, he has not forgotten the sacrifices made by his mother. Melanie Maynard used to work as a teller at a bookmaker, and after her day’s work she would go clean up a business premises to try and keep a roof over Marcus and his four siblings. In his letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson requesting that free meals continue to be distributed to children during the holidays, he wrote:
The story that brought me here is all too common: my mother worked full time, minimum wage, so that we always had a good evening meal on the table. But it was not enough. Our family depended on breakfast clubs, free meals served in the canteen, and food banks and soup kitchens were places we knew well. ”
If you want to find a glimmer of hope in the country this bleak winter, take a look at the messages posted on Rashford’s Twitter account. They are written by schoolchildren who have collected a little money, neighborhood houses which have organized food distributions, town halls which have strengthened their aid systems for the most deprived, companies which have joined the movement of generosity.
Boris Johnson must choose his team
After being dribbled by Rashford in recent months [voir ci-dessous], Boris Johnson’s government will now have to choose which team he wants to play for. And quick. During the parliamentary debate last October on the second extension of the free meals program for disadvantaged children, some Conservative MPs joined forces to block Rashford. One of them said that, in his constituency, providing free school meals with vouchers was like giving money to “Brothels and drug dealers”.
Parliament rejected the extension. That same evening, Rashford began to see the effect of his Twitter campaign in front of the hundreds of messages sent by restaurants and businesses across the UK responding to MPs’ votes by offering themselves free food for families in difficulty.
Changing course after the pandemic
The next day, stories of people and communities stepping up to challenge government intransigence hit the headlines. About a week later, Johnson did an about-face and pledged £ 400million [environ 450 millions d’euros] to support families in difficulty until the end of 2021. It should be noted that when he announced the current confinement, the Prime Minister cut the grass from under the feet of those who would have wanted to reopen the debate by presenting the maintenance free meals as a matter of course.
One of the things Marcus Rashford discovered last year is that the subject of access to food is still very emotional. He thinks he can use this so that the priorities and the course of the recovery that will follow the current crisis are not focused on austerity, as in the previous one, in 2008.
For FareShare’s Boswell, this would be the best possible outcome of Rashford’s extraordinary campaign: “Maybe we will finally start to see the major political parties fighting to end food poverty in the UK as quickly as possible. It makes me look in the mirror and think: ‘OK, I am 60 years old. What did I do when I was Marcus ‘age?’ Maybe the big lesson we all need to learn from him is that we all need to aim higher. ”
June 16: a week after ruling out the extension during the summer holidays of the system of free meals served at school to underprivileged students, the government is back-pedaling, under pressure from the Marcus Rashford campaign. Over a million children benefit from vouchers in supermarkets.
November 7: at the end of a campaign led by the footballer on social networks, supported by a petition with a million signatures, the executive gave in a second time. At the end of October, Conservative MPs blocked the delivery of vouchers during the Christmas holidays.
January 13: Closed because of a third national lockdown, English schools are instructed to provide food parcels to beneficiaries of free meals, through subcontractors, rather than vouchers. But the photos of the meager food received by schoolchildren, relayed in particular by Marcus Rashford, once again force Boris Johnson to change course: parents can again benefit from vouchers worth 17 euros per week.
The first super activist player
Few of the criticisms of the action of Marcus Rashford, across the Channel. Only the tabloid Daily Mail dared to point out in an article the real estate investments amounting to millions of pounds of the 23-year-old, decorated by the Queen last fall. “Accusations of hypocrisy greeted with a shrug of the shoulders: these attacks are nothing compared to what is shouted at him on Saturday in the stadiums”, highlighted The Observer. For its part, the London site UnHerd recalls that the Mancunien is supported by a powerful machine, the Roc Nation Sports International agency, created by rapper Jay-Z in 2008. “The company is dedicated to projects related to social justice: it paid the bail of Black Lives Matter protesters in America last summer, launched campaigns with much hype,” including that of Mancunien. “Until recently, the English did not expect much from their footballers, remember UnHerd. In the 2000s, it was for scandals like marital disputes that they were good at.” And then Marcus Rashford came along. “For experienced sports marketing professionals, his campaign set a precedent in England”, concludes the conservative site.
The oldest Sunday newspaper (1791) is also one of the flagships of “British quality”. It belongs to the same group as the daily The Guardian but is of liberal obedience. Like all newspapers from