Marcus Rashford is not like most 23-year-olds. Over the past year, he successfully pressured the UK government to change its policy on free school meals, become Manchester United’s third youngest player to score 50 Premier League goals and was named to the UK. ‘Order of the British Empire. More recently, he has joined Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge to help children with the tools and knowledge needed to create affordable and nutritious meals in the kitchen, neither of which had grown. Men’s Health sat down with Marcus and Tom to talk about the power of positivity, humility and determination, as well as the small number of an upcoming European football tournament.
MH: Let’s start with your collaboration: how did it come about?
TK: There is a connection between mine and Marcus ’background (single-parent families, mothers had two jobs) and we found ourselves in a position where we can help. Marcus has been outstanding over the past year, forming the working group on child food poverty, persuading the government to increase the value of the Healthy Start voucher to £ 4.25. Meanwhile, my life has to do with food, so it was about figuring out how we can connect to do something long-term, something special.
We want everyone who meets the requirements to get help to take advantage, so we started studying the type of food you can buy with these vouchers and decided to work on some affordable recipes. Many of these people have to make decisions as to whether they can afford to light the oven. They can have a frying pan, they can live on a bunk bed with children. We didn’t want him to be a preacher. We wanted to destigmatize the problem so that all children want to be part of it. All recipes are pocket-friendly and Marcus ’commitment to this is to encourage everyone to become literate in the kitchen.
MH: What was it like to feel hungry as a child?
MR: I find it hard to explain. If you haven’t been through it, you just don’t know what I’m talking about. I remember countless times I played and if there was no food I just forced myself to sleep because I knew there would be a meal the next morning. I was really so hungry and many times that was what I had to do. But what’s bad is that it became part of a routine. It didn’t happen once a month, but two or three times a week. If you combine the lack of food I was having with the amount of exercise I was doing, my nutrition was almost total.
TK: It’s terrifying to think this will still happen. I’m twice Marcus’s age, he talks about it when he was a 23-year-old boy and there are four-, five- and six-year-olds going through the same thing again. It must be addressed. Takeaway food and this convenience model; it’s great to be there, but the moment you depend on it, a great skill set will disappear. It’s not about being the best chef, it’s just about understanding how to cook some vegetables, a piece of meat or fish. How to fry an egg. If you work in the kitchen, you will be able to better understand food. But if you’re too scared to put a frying pan in it, you’ll never recognize how you progress with healthier meals or how you structure your diet.
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MH: Marcus, can you come back to us in January 2020? You had suffered a back injury against Wolves and that was when you started the idea of fighting food poverty. How did this happen?
MR: If I have nothing to look forward to, I can find the days very long and boring. I have a feeling inside me that is like, “I need to do something positive.” That was something that was always on the agenda, and I knew I was going to be hurt for at least three or four months, so I thought, “Why not focus on that?” I wanted to focus on something other than back stress, so it actually benefited both me and the kids.
MH: Do you talk a lot about having “this inside you” to help people? It’s almost as if you couldn’t …
MR: This is because as a child they helped me. They helped me a lot. When I started going to United, no one in my family was driving, so I took buses. Then some of the coaches started giving me lifts and that only meant massive stress relief for my mom and siblings. They all had work to do, putting money on the table. Sometimes, then, they would take a bus into town with me, and then another to Salford, and then the same, wasting five or six hours a day to help me when they might be working, which put me in a difficult place. When United started allowing us to use drivers, it was easier. My mom and siblings could go and earn money to put a plate of food on the table when I got home. Without help it would not have been possible to get this far in my career. So I just feel like, if you see that people need help, the people who are in my care should help them.
TK: This is very sensitive to you. A lot of people see these things but don’t react like you.
MR: Not long ago I lived this. I know how it feels; I know the complications and I also know what it can cause. The two or three friends who are close to me today have seen the bright side of things. But the rest of my friends – and sad to say – could not find this way out. He led them to do other things to provide for their families. Put them in a position: either do nothing about it and fight or start grafting and do whatever you need to do to put food on the table. This is just the reality. If they had been able to find a different result before, they would not be doing the things they are doing. It’s just your way or survive.
MH: The weight on your shoulders as a child must have been stressful. Could you tell the story of your mother who found you crying because you couldn’t train?
MR: I was in the front room. I was very young. Seven, maybe six. I hated losing training, I always did. I was ready to go and just hoped someone could get on the bus with me. My mother was not comfortable with me traveling alone, although at that stage she had been there enough times that she knew roughly where to go. I could have gotten off my own bat, but she would have been mad at me if I had jumped on the bus to town. There was a day when no one could catch me and I cried. I didn’t think I would come home, I thought I would come home later and it caught me. It was after that that he asked for a little more help [from United] and luckily we got it.
MH: Football was clearly everything for you, even then.
MR: My whole day revolved around football. I don’t know if it was because of lack of food or because there was often no one at home, but my life was just football, football, football. And I liked that. I enjoyed going out on the street and finding ways to challenge my skills and just improve. So every day was football. It didn’t matter what time it was. It was all day and all night if I could. I played until it was dark enough so I couldn’t see the ball. It was time to go home. On a school trip, I woke up at 6:30 in the morning and the first thing I thought was, “What can I learn today about football?” Everyone got up at 9am on that school trip and I just thought, “I have two and a half hours here to develop my skills.”
TK: I’m a Man United subscriber and was in the Eastern stand when Marcus made his debut. It was an amazing evening. Suddenly, 75,000 people at Old Trafford fell in love with this amazing 18-year-old. As a football fan, it has been amazing to see Marcus ’journey. He’s a great footballer, but he’s also reconnected so many people. The desire to return something and inspire people makes him different from so many other top athletes. He wants to help.
MH: Was football a pitch for you or something you’ve identified as a way to improve your life?
MR: At that age, I didn’t see football as a way to help my family. I didn’t even know the footballers were getting paid! Honestly, no. I just loved football, I could see myself getting better and better and I didn’t want that to stop. It wasn’t until I was 13 and I realized that footballers were charging a lot of money that I saw it as a way to get my family out of the situation we were in. At that stage, I was completely in love with the game and there was nothing that could take me away from football.
Find the rest of the interview, including Rashford’s predictions about the euros, in the June issue of Men’s Health UK.
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