Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has pledged he is only at the beginning of a long campaign to end child food poverty and his bid to make sure the next generation start life with a level playing field.
England international Rashford has seen his profile raised on and off the field during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the 23-year-old awarded an MBE during October in the delayed Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Rashford successfully lobbied the Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy in England during the first coronavirus lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive food over the summer.
The United forward has again led the way in January when tackling the issues over poor-quality food parcels which have been sent out to families, revealing on Twitter he had spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and been assured “a full review of the supply chain” is under way.
On Thursday, Rashford was honoured with the Football Writers’ Association 2021 Tribute Award in recognition of his outstanding campaign, which the FWA said “goes even wider than simply a football context”.
Despite having achieved so much already, Rashford maintains there is still more work to be done.
“We are at the beginning of what I see as a long journey,” Rashford said in an interview on www.footballwriters.co.uk.
“I am definitely not at the stage of relief yet, I feel that there is a lot more which needs to be done and a lot more steps which need to be taken forward.
“On the positive side we have started to take a few steps in the right direction, but for me now just because we have done that (it) is not about just sitting back now and being happy with what we have done.
“It is about what is next in the chapter of these children’s lives.”
Rashford continued: “That is a big issue for me and my team who are working on it – the numbers who still don’t have the support they need.
“We know we have managed to reach a lot more people that weren’t getting reached, but there are still people out there who are really struggling.
“If we can make a five or 10 per cent difference to every single one of their lives, then it puts everyone at a good baseline and then we can start to work on foundations for the future.
“But until everyone is on the same playing field, it is difficult to start jumping ahead and asking for things that are necessary, but the timing would be wrong.
“We need to make sure everyone is on the same level first and then we can start to improve that level until they are where they belong.”
Former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson paid a personal tribute to Rashford’s “truly amazing achievement”.
The 79-year-old told the FWA: “Marcus has shown to young people in particular there is a different way of dealing with life.
“He has shown great humility, has shown courage to do what he did, so this achievement is well deserved and should be recognised with what he has done.”
Rashford, who came through the United youth ranks, revealed Ferguson had helped encourage his campaign.
“Probably when other people in sports were telling me not to do it and just focus on football, he said if I believed in that, and I believe it is the right thing to do, then he is behind it,” the United forward said.
Rashford grew up just five miles away from Old Trafford in Wythenshawe and feels such a strong association with the club helped shape his determination to succeed.
“Never giving up is something that when you are in United’s academy, they give it to you from then,” said the United striker, who scored twice on his Premier League debut against Arsenal at Old Trafford in February 2016.
“As someone who has been there from five or six years old, it is just kind of engrained into your personality, the way you are on and off the pitch really.
“It is just in whatever you do – if I am losing in something or something is not quite going right, I just want to keep going until I get better at it or start to win.
“I have been like that since I was a kid and it is from United where you grow that determination.”