ROB HUGHES on Captain Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford, two Englishmen united in their service.
Captain Tom Moore and Marcus Rashford are two of a kind. Separated by three quarters of a century – and last week by death – they epitomise salt of the earth Englishmen, inspiration to the rest of us throughout the hardest of years.
The Old Soldier and the Man Utd rising star, were born generations apart, and Sir Tom, a Second World War army veteran from Yorkshire, preferred cricket to the bigger ball game.
Lockdown motivated them differently. You couldn’t keep Thomas Moore from pushing his walking frame around his back garden during his 100th year following hip surgery. He targeted 100-days to raise a thousand pounds and ended up with £32 million for National Health charities.
Hundreds of thousands around the world donated because the money was for front line workers when we needed them most. After Tom passed (from pneumonia and Covid-19) some called him a hero. Personally, I saw him as a symbol of our time, a decent, dutiful man who managed to connect to a global dread from a desire to do something during a time of such common vulnerability.
What he called his long innings culminated with the most relevant year of his life.
He didn’t walk alone into public honours. The Queen knighted Tom Moore last July, and Rashford received the MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal – two weeks before his 23rd birthday in October.
That wasn’t for football, although he is well on the way to honours on the pitch too. It was for public service, for obliging the prime minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak to divert public money to provide £170 million for meals for children, for Universal Credit, and for the homeless.
Footballers have time, and the power of popularity. Rashford uses it for the less privileged. In his ‘day job’, he plays as you might imagine Tom Moore would — a selfless team man, gifted enough, industrious enough to overtake the 82 goals that Eric Cantona scored in United red during a flamboyant passage of his career up to 1997, the year Rashford was born.
No doubt Sir Alex Ferguson, the club manager when Cantona was king, knew the potential of Rashford who signed up for United’s academy at the age of seven. And Ferguson, who joined venture capitalist Michael Moritz in pledging to double donations to a Christmas fundraising appeal set up in Rashford’s name (raising another £3 million), fully knows the talent, the luck, perseverance, and adaptability needed to turn gifted youth into a genuine star of the game.
With United’s experience of the way that fame and fortune can spoil talent before it matures, Fergie fiercely shielded youngsters. He came down from Scotland to manage United long after George Best ruined his glorious career through wine, women and nightlife, so with Ryan Giggs and others, the club attempted to almost straitjacket young lads’ social life to keep them concentrated body, mind and soul on the game.
It was a neighbour of Ferguson, the Man City and England manager Joe Mercer, who wittily remarked: “Genius is great when it’s on song; when it goes off, it contaminates.”
That danger probably never tempted Rashford. Ferguson speaks of the boy, now the man, showing “great humility, great courage”. And Rashford, while chasing fame and fortune, took our breath away from the time he felt stardom.
He scored with his first shot as a United player, scored twice in fact on his debut against Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League in February 2016. He scored on his Premier League debut against Arsenal, scored on his England debut, and in successive seasons upstaged Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the richest record signings of Paris St Germain, on their own pitch in the Champions League.
It takes appreciable mental strength to stay humble at 23 when Rashford is still learning, still willing to play in any position – striker, winger, support player – that successive managers Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asked of him.
He is a ‘veteran’ of 248 United games, yet still a beginner in terms of what he might accomplish.
And it is off the pitch, where even the most guarded of team managers cannot run their lives, that Marcus Rashford has developed into as exceptional person in the first throes of his manhood as Captain Tom became in his last.
The determination to take on the government on poverty comes from his childhood when his Mum Melanie Maynard, a single parent, worked three jobs at a time to feed her four kids, often going without meals herself.
Those memories and the awareness of poverty in his grandparents homeland of St Kitts in the Caribbean drive Rashford. He remains the young master of understatement.
His free meals campaign began when he offered to donate money to FareShare, a national charitable network trying to redistribute surplus food to frontline community charities.
Decades ago, I recall having to persuade the combative Leeds United skipper Billy Bremner to let me write about him sitting at the bedside of a comatose boy whose parents hoped that by hearing Bremner’s voice the child might awaken. Billy feared the tale might weaken his tough guy image. Rashford knows that fame can move political mountains.
Capt Tom raised £32 million on his walk, Marcus Rashford, simultaneously tackling racists, is not afraid to be voice of need. In the Manchester suburb where he comes from there are murals the size of houses – one by a street artist depicting Rashford’s face, the other a painting that advertises him in Burberry clothing.
Full credit to Manchester United and to Solskjaer for appreciating that, while a star needs rest and relaxation, Rashford’s spare time is better suited to remembering where he came from, and where many sporting talent rise, spurred by need.
Goodbye Captain Tom, Hello Saint Marcus. An officer, and a gentleman of sports’ rich fields.
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