Marcus Rashford has credited his emergence as a teenage footballer for England and Manchester United for allowing him to fight so publicly for his beliefs.
The 22-year-old forward was awarded an MBE in the delayed Queen’s Birthday Honours list last week.
Rashford launched a high-profile campaign which resulted in the Government changing policy over its free school meals vouchers during the coronavirus lockdown, helping ensure children in need did not go hungry during the summer break.
He has maintained his drive for social change by forming a child food poverty task force, which has linked up with some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and food brands.
Rashford challenged the Government over the issue and appeared in television interviews calling for additional support.
He puts his ability to tackle the issue on such a big stage down to his early progression into the sporting spotlight having made his respective United and England debuts as an 18-year-old.
“I think playing for United and England at a young age it helped me mature a lot quicker than I would’ve expected to,” he said.
“I’m grateful for those opportunities and very happy I was put in those positions. I do feel like I’ve matured a lot. I feel like I’m free to speak on things I feel strongly about. It’s because of those experiences in the past that make me feel so comfortable doing that.”
Rashford also pointed to England team-mates Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, who have previously addressed racism and depression, as examples which he set out to follow.
“In sports things change all the time and especially in our generation, there’s more people speaking out on issues that they feel strongly about and it definitely gives you the element of freedom to speak about things that are important to you,” he said.
“That’s actually how everything first started for me just speaking on something I thought was right. I don’t think players should feel bad about doing that.
“It’s becoming more and more important and the more that people do that, the more an eye-opener it to how many people we can help and we can affect. For me it’s a good thing and a positive thing that people feel that freedom to speak out on things.”
Now Rashford wants to see more people on a similar platform work towards good causes close to their own heart.
“I’m very optimistic about that. I’m hopeful people do react in that way because I know going forward that it is one of the biggest ways that the issue will start to go away,” he told BBC Radio 5Live.
“The things that are happening now are so small in the grand scheme of things because the goal is to bring it down as low as we possibly can.
“It is something I feel strongly about and I wouldn’t push anyone to do it because it is important they do what feels right and what is important to them but all I can do is give them the facts and then everyone can help in the way they can because every little helps.
“I don’t know what the future holds, I had to learn about the issues myself as time went on and gain more of an understanding about different issues in order to try and help people in the right way. I’m still young and I’m very much enjoying my football whilst helping people.”
Having achieved his childhood ambitions of playing for club and country at such a young age, Rashford has now established himself in both teams – scoring his 11th England goal in Sunday’s Nations League win over Belgium.
Now, on the eve of the Group A2 clash with Denmark, he has told the next generation to retain hope they can achieve their own goals despite the current uncertainty in the world.
“I know from people in communities that aren’t as stable as others that sometimes a dream for a kid is the one thing they can hold onto – the one thing that is actually theirs,” he added.
“I think, even though how difficult times are at the moment, it is important that we keep repeating ourselves, especially to the younger generation, that your dreams are your most important thing.
“As a child, don’t let go of them, I know the world is a bit crazy at the moment but when I speak to young kids or people just going into high school, it is important for them to know that.”