Marcus Rashford, who is 24, plays football for England and Manchester United and is the author of this year's bestselling children's nonfiction book, You Are a Champion, written with the journalist Carl Anka to inspire young people to reach their full potential.
One of five siblings raised by a single mother on minimum wage in Manchester, Rashford has become one of Britain’s leading campaigners against child poverty. His high-profile projects have included campaigning for free school meals, a project chronicled in a BBC documentary last year called Feeding Britain’s Children.
In June he launched the Marcus Rashford Book Club in conjunction with the Magic Breakfast radio show and Macmillan Children's Books to encourage a lifelong love of reading and give free books to underprivileged children. Next year, Rashford will release his first children's fiction book, The Breakfast Club Adventures, co-authored by Alex Falase-Koya.
What effect has your book club had so far?
I visited Button Lane a few weeks ago; it's my old primary school and a recipient of my book club. It was brilliant to see the children's faces light up when they talked about books, and each and every one of them had taken something slightly different away from their reading. They were engaged, and that is what we're looking for – for children to use books as an escape when faced with daily challenges; to be inspired, motivated and ultimately dream about what they could be one day. The one thing that stood out for me, though, was how their aspirations had changed since the club first launched. Then, most of the children told me they wanted to be a footballer like me. Now, we have children dreaming of being artists, architects, vets. It's just brilliant. That's what I wanted. The belief that they can be anything they want to be.
A dream of mine has always been to encourage more compassion in the next generation so that they champion their differences
Tell us a bit about the books you chose for the club this year.
For me, the books are actually secondary to the bigger picture when we go through the selection process. I'm looking for authors and illustrators to inspire the children – creatives who have come from similar backgrounds, are of the same race, religion . . . all of that is important. I want to put these writers on a pedestal and show children that although they came from a similar place, a similar background, they have made a great career for themselves doing what they love, and where they grew up has not stunted them. That said, the first two books we chose are brilliant – Pooja Puri's A Dinosaur Ate My Sister, which is wonderfully illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan, and Tom Percival's Silas and the Marvellous Misfits. They are both full of adventure and have been really well received by the children at Button Lane.
In your book You Are a Champion, there's a chapter called Never Stop Learning. Can you tell us three things, big or small, that you have learned this year?
Oof, okay, let me think about this one. I learned basic skills in the kitchen thanks to [the chef] Tom Kerridge. I only really began cooking this year when I launched Full Time Meals with Tom. It's designed to help children and adults find their confidence in the kitchen on limited budgets and with limited equipment. It was created to support the uptake of the Healthy Start scheme but is really an opportunity for families to spend some valuable time together in the kitchen when day trips or activities are limited by budget.
I also learned and understood the power of my voice and my platform to support others, and to be more thankful for what I had, given how quickly it can be taken away through injury and pandemics. I try to learn something new every day, but I’d say these are three that stand out.
What is the best/most memorable feedback you've had about your book?
I was sat with a little boy the other day at Button Lane, and when I asked him what he had taken away from You Are a Champion he told me about the importance of being kind, and if he could be kind, how he could teach others to be the same. A dream of mine has always been to encourage more compassion in the next generation so that they champion their differences, instead of highlighting them to divide, so hearing that was just brilliant. I try to do regular insight sessions with the children so I can understand what they need in a book. You Are a Champion wasn't written to win awards – it was created to help a child like me develop the tools to navigate through their daily challenges, but I'm really proud to see how it has been received by children of all backgrounds.
Who or what got you into reading?
I didn't actually start reading until I was 17. We didn't have books at home, nor did we have the environment to read books. My mum worked three jobs, so I found my freedom outside kicking a ball around. It was hard for me to engage with books at the time. Very few characters looked like me, and my life was far from a fairytale. That experience set the foundations for what we needed from the book club – representation, acceptance and acknowledgment. Every child should pick up these books and feel like they were written for them. The first book that really locked me in was Relentless by Tim Grover. It was a different type of book focused on mentality, and exactly what I needed when I was breaking in to the first team. I still read the book every couple of months and mark it to track my progress.
In the book and in life you come across as somebody who faces each day full of positivity. What's your morning routine – what things do you do to best set yourself up for the day?
It would be wrong to say I'm always positive, especially given how my mood can be dictated by a football result, but I do always try to find the positives in whatever situation I'm facing. I'm living out my dream, and given where I came from there isn't really a lot I can now complain about. I'm grateful for the position I've found myself in. One of the biggest lessons I took from Relentless was never to allow my mood to get too high, because it means the lows are that much lower, and that's definitely the case in my job. If my mood was determined by the football result, I'd be up and down like a rollercoaster. Most players stick to a routine in the morning, which is the case for me. I like routine and it hasn't changed much since I was young. I get up, I head to training, I have breakfast, I train. Very straightforward. On a day off I will wake up, have breakfast, do a bit of recovery and then maybe take the dogs for a walk.
Breakfast features a few times in your book – Weetabix as a kid; your nana's unbeatable corn porridge . . . What is your breakfast of champions today?
It doesn't really differ from when I was a child, to be honest. Weetabix, cornflakes, Coco Pops – or if I'm feeling a little adventurous I'll have fried egg and toast, which I pick up at the training ground. Again, I love a routine.
What are your books of the year?
Well obviously, my book club choices. But additionally, I love what Lenny Henry has done with The Boy With Wings. It's a fun superhero adventure story for children that's representative of all children. It's also illustrated by Keenon Ferrell, who is great.
Mum used to queue around the block outside the food bank for a Christmas dinner, and we really made the best of what we had, which is a credit to her
What are you reading at the moment?
Carl Anka, who wrote You Are a Champion with me, actually got me Phil Jackson's Eleven Rings for my birthday, so I've been enjoying reading that.
How are you spending Christmas and what are your main memories of Christmas when you were a kid?
While you're playing football you don't really have a "traditional" Christmas. We typically train or are in a hotel that day because there are so many fixtures, so we'll get to see family for a couple of hours then it's straight back to work. It's not something I feel I'm missing out on, as we didn't really have the traditional Christmas when I was young. We didn't really have gifts. The important thing was that we were together. Mum used to queue around the block outside the food bank for a Christmas dinner, and we really made the best of what we had, which is a credit to her. We never wanted Mum to feel the pressure of Christmas, so we just enjoyed it for what it was. The togetherness and family are probably the things I miss on the day at the moment, but we have plenty of opportunities to make up for it.
What are you looking forward to next year?
It's a big football year so I'm looking forward to everything that that brings. I have my first fiction book, The Breakfast Club Adventures, launching in May, which I'm really excited about. Breakfast club was a safe haven for me, and I wanted to capture the unity and togetherness of that space. A space where my lifelong friendships were formed. A space that started our day the right way, with energy and adventure. I'm working on that at the moment with my co-author, Alex Falase-Koya, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the children react to it. I'm also looking forward to seeing how You Are a Champion is received in the United States, as we launch it there on June 7th.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who never forgot where he came from. As someone who used the platform his career gave him to highlight inequalities and bring opportunity to those that truly needed it.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
My mum. – Guardian
You Are a Champion by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka is published by Macmillan