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Marcus Rashford is a hero the Premier League scarcely deserves

The Manchester United striker has led an enormous community effort to feed children in poverty, after the UK government refused to extend meal vouchers through to next year.

WE DON’T KNOW how much attention Boris Johnson pays to football.

His signature football moment thus far was to stumble and headbutt Germany’s Maurizio Gaudino in the, eh, groin during a 2006 Charity Game, in a moment of on-the-nose foreshadowing of how he would approach Brexit and its trade talks along with all other moments of basic diplomacy of the Prime Minister’s office.

Source: jakemsf/YouTube

So we don’t know how seriously Johnson takes football. (Then again, we don’t really know how seriously he takes anything.)

It’s time he takes Marcus Rashford seriously, however, as the United striker is not going to be bought off with an MBE.

Rashford is a force of nature. Earlier this year, as a wave of activism took hold among athletes on both sides of The Atlantic, Rashford wrote to MPs calling for them to reverse a decision that would see free school meals for underprivileged children ended during the six-week summer holidays

Rashford said that, while he isn’t an MP, he knew the difference a u-turn on this issue would make to 1.3 million children “because 10 years ago I was one of them” 

“This is not about politics; this is about humanity”, wrote Rashford. “Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?”

He won. The government pulled a u-turn and extended the free meals system throughout the holidays. Johnson thanked Rashford for his “contribution to debate around poverty”, which is a little like Francis Ford Coppola welcoming a contribution to debate around The Godfather. 

Rashford was awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children, and in his acceptance he initially said what the government would want him to hear…but then veered off course.

“I’m incredibly honoured and humbled. As a young black man from Wythenshawe, never did I think I would be accepting an MBE, never mind an MBE at the age of 22. This is a very special moment for myself and my family, but particularly my mum who is the real deserving recipient of the honour.

“The fight to protect our most vulnerable children is far from over. I would be doing my community, and the families I have met and spoken with, an injustice if I didn’t use this opportunity to respectfully urge the Prime Minister, who recommended me for this honour, to support our children during the October half term with an extension of the voucher scheme.” 

Johnson and his government didn’t listen. 

A bill to extend the £15-a-week school meal voucher to more than a million schoolkids through to Easter 2021 was defeated in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, with Rashford airing his “despair” online afterwards.

Some Tory MPs openly derided Rashford and the scheme, seeing it as the latest national talking point to be thrown into the circus of their culture war. 

“I do not believe in nationalising children” scoffed Brendan Clarke-Smith. “Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility, and that means less celebrity virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

The UK government is filled with people like this, who see poverty as some kind of moral failing rather than a ruthless circumstance which the government could actually do something about.

 The scheme to extend school meal vouchers over summer cost £126 million pound, a fraction of the estimated £12 billion the Johnsons government found to spaff on their dysfunctional track-and-trace system.

Rashford has not allowed his despair wallow as inaction, and today has used his social media to amplify local community groups willing to do what the government won’t and provide free meals for kids. 

There has hardly been more than a half-hour between tweets, with local business, groups and city councils responding to fill the government’s void.

That charity must do the work of the government is lamentable, but nonetheless, Rashford is ensuring that hundred of thousands of children don’t go to bed hungry.

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Ultimately, Rashford has what those in power do not: empathy. He knows the scheme is important as he has lived the experience. He has watched his mother work full-time on minimum wage and still struggle to provide; he has been the kid whose friends’ parents insist on feeding. 

The UK has quite a centralised system of government – 85% of local authorities’ central spend is decided by Westminster, which is an increase on 60% of the 1970s – and the distance makes it easier for the ruling class to make decisions that hurt people’s lives. 

Rashford, through his talent as a footballer, is among the few to have a voice loud enough to be heard in London. 

Imagine being 22 and reflecting on a Friday evening that the signature achievement of your week was not scoring the winning goal for Manchester United away to Paris Saint-Germain?  

This has been a tawdry few weeks for the Premier League, with Project Big Picture and pay-per-view games again exposing the greed that governs its clubs, Rashford’s employers included.

But ultimately, even in times as turbulent as these, one fact about football persists: the game will always be elevated by its players. In this case, Marcus Rashford.

Premier League fixtures 

Friday 

Aston Villa vs Leeds (8pm)

Saturday 

West Ham vs Man City (12.30pm) 

Fulham vs Crystal Palace (3pm) 

Manchester United vs Chelsea (5.30pm) 

Liverpool vs Sheffield United (8pm)

Sunday 

Southampton vs Everton (2pm) 

Wolves vs Newcastle (4.30pm) 

Arsenal vs Leicester City (7.15pm) 

Monday

Brighton vs West Brom (5.30pm) 

Burnley vs Spurs (8pm)

 

 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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