In an interview with Channel 4 News, Marcus Rashford has revealed how his upbringing inspired his activism.
Last year, the Manchester United footballer took on the government over free school meals and now he wants to get more children reading.
“I was just always on the streets playing football and stuff, so I never saw reading as something to do,” he says.
“But now that I have read, I want to make sure that the next generation have the opportunity.”
The 23-year-old, who read his first book aged 17, has written a guide to life for young people called You Are A Champion: How To Be The Best You Can Be.
According to research by the National Literacy Trust, an estimated 383,000 children have never owned a book.
Rashford says without football he would probably have not had the opportunity to experience life outside of his hometown, and hopes his story will inspire others.
“There’s too many inconsistencies in certain areas where kids grow up and it just sets them on a pathway that’s like that for the rest of their lives,” he says.
He adds: “Without football I would probably be the same, but with football I got the opportunity to travel to different places… and just experience things that people where I’m from don’t get the opportunity to experience.
“I feel like just doing what I’m doing is allowing them to have an insight.”
In 2020, a campaign by the footballer forced the UK government to twice reverse its decision not to extend free school meals to eligible children in England during the holidays.
“If you change the mindset of the public and you change the way that they do things and then you have the government support you as well, you can create sustainable change,” Rashford says.
More than 800,000 people signed his petition calling for free school meals to continue in the holidays.
His mother Melanie Maynard brought up the England forward in Wythenshawe, Manchester, along with his siblings, and she often had to work multiple jobs to feed the family.
Rashford’s experiences inspired him to speak out.
“It used to take me an hour to get to training and I would just be looking out the window and I would just always see people,” he says.
“I always said to myself, if I could ever help them even though they don’t know who I am, I would try.”
Earlier this month, Manchester United’s game against Liverpool was postponed after fans broke into Old Trafford to protest against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club. It was the first time a Premier League match had been postponed due to fan protests.
When asked whether he envied the amicable relationship between some football club owners, like Leicester City, with their fans and players, Rashford said: “It’s difficult for me to speak on but for me as a player, what’s important is that we play for the badge.
“What goes on above us, of course it affects us, but as a player you’re paid to do your best for the club.”
He adds: “You have to be committed to the badge, to your teammates, to the staff – and it’s as simple as that really.
“You have to try to ignore what’s going on on the outside.”
In October, Rashford was awarded an MBE for his work to tackle child poverty, but he says the award was not as important as seeing families “not struggling anymore”.
“I think the recognition of the MBE actually helped more people understand and has given the opportunity to learn about what I’m doing, and because of that it allowed more people to be helped.”
Asked if he was tempted to go into politics after his football career ends, he says no, adding: “I don’t know anything about politics.”
“In life there’s the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do and for me, it’s as simple as that,” he says.
“If somebody needs help, if you’re in a position to help them you should help them.”
You Are A Champion: How To Be The Best You Can Be is published by Macmillan Children’s Books.
Producer: Zahra Warsame.