Meet Our New Cover Star Marcus Rashford, a Men’s Health Hero

·9-min read

Marcus Rashford is not like most 23-year-olds. Over the past year, he has successfully pressured the UK government to change its policy on free school meals, become the third youngest Manchester United player to score 50 Premier League goals, and been appointed to the Order of the British Empire. Most recently, he has teamed up with the Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge to help empower kids with the tools and knowhow to create affordable, nutritious meals in the kitchen – the likes of which neither of them had growing up. Men’s Health sat down with Marcus and Tom to talk about the power of positivity, humility and determination, plus the small issue of a forthcoming European football tournament.

MH: Let’s start with your collaboration – how did it come about?

TK: There’s a connection between mine and Marcus’s background – single-parent families, mums had two jobs – and we’ve found ourselves in a position where we’re able to help. Marcus has been exceptional over the past year, forming the Child Food Poverty Task Force, persuading the government to increase the value of Healthy Start voucher to £4.25. Meanwhile, my life is all about food, so it was about working out how we can connect do something long-term, something special.

We want everyone who qualifies for help to take advantage, so we started looking at the sort of foods you can buy with these vouchers, then decided to work on some affordable recipes. A lot of these people have to make decisions like whether they can afford to turn the oven on. They may have one pan, they may live in a bedsit with kids. We didn’t want to make it preachy. We wanted to de-stigmatise the issue so every child would want to be part of it. All of the recipes are pocket-friendly, and Marcus’s engagement in it is to encourage everyone to become more kitchen-literate.

MH: What was it like to feel hunger as a kid?

MR: I struggle to explain it. If you haven’t been through it, you just don’t know what I am on about. I remember countless times playing out and then, if there wasn’t any food there, just forcing myself to sleep because I knew there would be a meal the next morning. I really was that hungry and a lot of the times that’s just what I had to do. But what’s bad is that it became part of a routine. It wasn’t happening once a month, it was 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 all over the gaff.

TK: It’s terrifying to think this is still happening. I am twice Marcus’ age, he’s talking about it as a 23-year-old, and there are four-, five-, six-year-old kids who are going through the same thing again. It has to be addressed. Takeaway food and that convenience model – it’s great that it’s there but the moment you become reliant on it then a huge skill set disappears. It’s not about being the best chef but simply trying to understand how to cook some vegetables, a piece of meat or fish. How to fry an egg. If you engage in the kitchen then you can understand food better. But if you’re too scared of putting on a frying pan then you’re never going to recognise how you move forward with healthier meals or how to structure your diet.

MH: Marcus, can you take us back to January 2020? You’d picked up a back injury against Wolves and that was when you started upon this idea of fighting food poverty. How did that happen?

MR: If I don’t have something to look forward to I can find the days very long and boring. I have a feeling inside me that’s, like, “I need to do something positive.” This was something that was always on the agenda anyway, and I knew I was going to be injured for at least three or four months, so I thought: “Why not concentrate on this?” I wanted to focus on something other than the stress of my back, so it actually benefited me as well as the children.

MH: You talk a lot of having “this thing inside” you to help people? It’s almost like you can’t not do it…

MR: That’s because as a kid I was helped. I was helped a lot. When I first started going to United, no-one in my family drove, so I was catching buses. Then some of the coaching staff started giving me lifts and that alone was a massive stress relief for my mum and brothers. They all had jobs to do, to put money on the table. So sometimes for them to get a bus into town with me, and then another to Salford, and then the same back, losing five or six hours of the day to help me when they could be working, that put me in a difficult spot. When United started allowing us to use drivers it made it easier. My mum and brothers could go and make the money to put a plate of food on the table when I got home. Without help it wouldn’t have been possible for me to get this far in my career. So I just feel like, if you can see that people need help, then people in my position should help.

TK: That’s very sensitive of you. A lot of people do see these things but don’t react like you.

MR: Not that long ago I was living this. I know what it feels like; I know the complications and I also know what it can lead to. The two or three friends who are close to me today have seen the positive side of things. But the rest of my friends – and it’s sad to say this – they just couldn’t find that way out. It led them to do other things to provide for their families. It puts them in a position – either you do nothing about it and struggle or start grafting and do whatever is you have to do to put food on the table. That’s just the reality. If they could have found a different outcome earlier on they wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing. It’s just their way or surviving.

MH: The weight on your shoulders as a kid must have been stressful. Could you tell the story of your mum finding you crying because you couldn’t get to training?

MR: I was in the front room. I was very young. Seven, maybe six. I hated missing training, always have done. I was ready to go and just hoping someone could get on the bus with me. My mum wasn’t comfortable with me travelling on my own, even though by that stage I had been there enough times I knew roughly where to go. I could have got there off my own bat but she would’ve been mad at me if I just hopped on the bus into town. So there was this one day when no-one could take me and I was crying. I didn’t think she was coming home, I thought she was coming home later, and she caught me. It was after that she asked for a bit more help [from United] and thankfully we got it.

MH: Football was clearly everything to you, even then.

MR: My whole day revolved around football. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of meals, or because often there was no-one was at home, but my life was just football, football, football. And I enjoyed that. I enjoyed going out on the streets and finding ways to challenge my skills and just improve. So every day was football-minded. It didn’t matter what time. It was all-day and all-night if I could. I played until it was dark enough that you couldn’t see the ball. That was time to go home. On a school trip I would wake up at 6.30am and the first thing on my mind was, “What can I learn today football-wise?” Everyone else was up 9am on that school trip and I just thought, “I’ve got two and a half hours here to develop my skills.”

TK: I’m a Man United season-ticket holder and I was in the East Stand when Marcus made his debut. It was an amazing evening. 75,000 people inside Old Trafford suddenly fell in love with this incredible 18-year-old. As a football fan it’s been amazing to see Marcus’ journey. He’s a great footballer but he’s also re-connected so many people. It’s the desire to give something back and inspire people that makes him different to so many other top sportsmen. He wants to help.

MH: Was football a release for you or more something that you identified as a way of improving your life?

MR: At that age I didn’t see football as a way to help my family. I didn’t even know footballers got paid! I honestly didn’t. 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 realised that footballers were paid good money that I saw it as a way to get my family out of the situation we were in. By that stage I was fully 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 for the Euros, in the June issue of Men's Health UK.


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