Footballer Marcus Rashford has a string of achievements to his name at just 22 – and the latest have no relation to events on the pitch.
The striker has become a talisman since breaking through into the Manchester United ranks in 2015, going on to play a role in FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League wins.
But his recent performances – which have been equally lauded – have seen Rashford take the Government to task over the provision of free school meals, a campaign which has seen him awarded an MBE for fighting child food poverty.
Upon being told of the honour, Rashford said he never foresaw a “young black man from Wythenshawe” being given the honour, let alone at his age.
Rashford has written about his experiences as a youngster and how his mother worked full-time earning minimum wage “to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table” – an experience he said was “all-too-familiar for families in England”.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he teamed up with poverty and food waste charity FareShare to help raise £20 million, which meant 3.9 million meals could be distributed to vulnerable people every week.
In an open letter to MPs in June, he wrote: “Without the kindness and generosity of the community I had around me, there wouldn’t be the Marcus Rashford you see today.
“As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year.
“It’s only now that I really understand the enormous sacrifice my mum made in sending me away to live in digs aged 11, a decision no mother would ever make lightly.”
Rashford started out at Fletcher Moss Rangers, signing for the club as an under 9 academy player and going on to join the ranks of Manchester United.
He rose to prominence after scoring twice on his senior debut as an 18-year-old in a Europa League victory over Midtjylland in February 2016, and managed 22 in all competitions last season.
However, he has become almost as well-known for his activism in recent months.
His June letter, which was followed by a Government reversal on the extension of free school meals for children during the summer holidays, said: “As a Black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic.
“Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbours, and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances and caps.
“I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”
Since then, United’s number 10 has continued to pressure Number 10 on child food poverty, launching a petition asking for an expansion of access to Free School Meals.
Fletcher Moss Rangers has a list of their former players who have gone on to turn professional.
Alongside Jesse Lingard and Danny Welbeck, the list includes Rashford with a note saying: “He has excelled in his ambition to be the best he can be.”
The hundreds of thousands who are backing his fight – along with millions who back United week in week out – would probably agree.