Marcus Rashford says Raheem Sterling has inspired him

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford says Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling helped him appreciate and understand the power of his own voice; Rashford also praises Gareth Southgate for helping instil a sense of unity within the England squad

Marcus Rashford replaces Raheem Sterling for England

Marcus Rashford says England team-mate Raheem Sterling has been huge source of inspiration for his off-field activities that have recently seen his awarded an MBE.

Rashford was honoured last month after successfully lobbying the Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy during lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive meals across the summer.

Manchester City forward Sterling has emerged as one of football's most prominent voices in the fight against racism. Sterling was last week credited by the FA's Paul Elliot for helping provide impetus to last week's launch of the FA Leadership Diversity Code after describing a lack of black representation at the upper echelons of the game as an injustice in a Newsnight interview in June.

Speaking in the first episode of the FA's Black, England and Proud series, made in partnership with Refresh Productions and Facebook, Rashford says Sterling's use of his platform to try and affect change made him realise what he could achieve.

Asked who his football inspirations are, Rashford said: "The most recent one was probably Raheem when he started speaking about the issues that he has faced.

"For me, Raheem showed me if you're not happy about something say it and make people aware of it. It's not a crime to tell people what you think, it's probably the biggest thing that sparked change for me."

This England team stand together

Rashford's admiration for Sterling - despite the fact they play for rival Manchester clubs - underlines the togetherness that exists within an England team that last month beat Belgium.

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He points to England's 6-0 win over Bulgaria last year - where the game had to be halted twice due to racist chanting only for England to decide among themselves to finish the game - as a perfect illustration of the unity that exists within the squad.

"Since Gareth has come in we have done a lot of work off the pitch, with people coming from different communities - these are the best players in England but everyone is from different places," Rashford said.

England players talk amongst themselves during a temporary break in play following racist chanting from a section of the home support
Image: England players talk amongst themselves during a temporary break in play following racist chanting from a section of the home support away at Bulgaria last year

"He found a way to bring us all together but it was natural, it wasn't forced and no-one felt forced to speak about things they don't want to. And when situations have occurred we have managed to just deal with it but we didn't deal with it as individuals.

"I know some players in the past I have spoken to on racist issues they [have had to] deal with it themselves. The way that we have dealt with situations in recent times, it's been amazing, literally everyone together.

"The game in Bulgaria [the racist abuse] was literally happening from the beginning of the game. I think one of the main reasons why he had the strength to carry on and just ignore it and play our football was because of that bond."

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