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Rashford is a welcome lighthouse in dark times

Striker has shown more compassion than our leaders
Senior Football Correspondent

There are times when the urge to switch off and unplug from the world is overwhelming.

As the coronavirus death toll in the United Kingdom surpassed 50,000, it was greeted with triumphant talk about a “world-beating” tracing system by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A system that will not be fully functional until September or October.

It followed Dominic Cummings morphing into a Specsavers employee, completing a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle, with his child in the car, to perform an eye test.

Then the light flicked on, or to be more accurate, the camera phone rolled again to capture America’s looting of black people’s basic rights, their dignity and their lives.

George Floyd was unarmed and couldn’t breathe as a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot eight times by Louisville Metro Police. Ahmaud Arbery, was jogging in Georgia when Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, murdered him.

The list is endless, unacceptable and it is painful. The wounds are worsened by a moronic Wotsit lookalike that incites division and more violence while pathetically shouting ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’ on Twitter.

Then there are still those who socially distance from the disease of racism in the UK, insisting it is a US issue.

Nope, not here. Not where the man in charge has used the word “picaninnies,” described Democratic Republic of Congo citizens as having “watermelon smiles” and admitted that a “bunch of black kids” made him “turn a hair”, which is only scratching the surface.

On Thursday, a video circulated that not only shredded the heart, but also the false notion that England does not have problem with racism.

In it, one male and one female teenager are seen viciously taunting Kieran, a young black kid with autism. Filmed at a cricket club in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, the pair order him to get down and kiss the trainers worn by Harvey – a 17-year-old barber who has since been fired from his job.

Kieran is denigrated in front of a laughing audience and is slapped during the clip. That recording, on top of everything else that has been going on in the world, felt like the point of unplugging. The thought of how many times he has been bullied and abused without it being captured and shared which forced a stop, cut deep.

And then, amid all the darkness, Marcus Rashford once again emerged as a lighthouse.

The 22-year-old has shown more compassion, more empathy, more unifying action than our leaders. It was uplifting to imagine just how much it meant to Kieran to be supported by the Manchester United striker, who said: “I got you my guy, always. I appreciate the love and support you send me constantly. Keep that head of yours high. Love, your friend.”

While the bullies were left facing racially aggravated common assault and public order offences, Kieran had gained the backing of someone we’d all pretty much like to be mates with. Rashford is an exceptionally talented footballer, but he is also a Genuine Good Guy, tuned into the needs of those often forgotten about by society.

When he was afforded a day off by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November, he spent it at Selfridges in Manchester city centre encouraging people to help the homeless over Christmas through the In the Box campaign. He remembered the two bus journeys it would take to get to training in Salford as a kid and the walks through town littered with those who could not afford a roof over their heads.

“From then it was in my mind,” he said. “As I got older, I’m now in a position to make a difference for them.”

As the scale of coronavirus was starting to spread across the globe, Rashford again rewound to his childhood. He recalled arriving early at school so he wouldn’t miss breakfast club, where those who didn’t have a meal at home would be given toast, eggs, porridge and orange juice.

Marcus Rashford in Manchester United training this week (Getty)

Rashford figured when education centres shut due to Covid-19, an estimated 1.5 million kids would miss out on that vital offer and joined charitable food organisation FareShare to help ensure that didn’t happen.

He has made several personal donations to the cause, which by the end of May was providing over 2 million meals for projects supporting children through the pandemic in the UK. By the close of this month, that figure will eclipse 3 million.

Rashford received a High Sheriff Special Recognition Award for his outstanding contributions to the community of Greater Manchester during the crisis. The England international has also encouraged kids to read and learned sign language to judge a World Book Day poetry competition after a request from a fan in Year 7.

Spotlighting Rashford’s kindness is not to discount the great work that other footballers have done – often quietly – during coronavirus or otherwise, which is welcomed and appreciated. But when hope is scarce as heart-wrenching episodes overflow, it is comforting to look to a familiar face and realise that love, care and generosity are still extremely powerful tools.

Rashford has been a constant source of glitter in a grim reality, encouraging us all to do more, to be better. We should follow his lead – and so should the men actually empowered to move the UK and US forward.