Is Boris Johnson really Prime Minister? Or is Marcus Rashford? It's not hard to see why some are confused. Whenever the Manchester United footballer has opened his mouth – not least on helping children who get free school meals during holidays – Boris has, often reluctantly, bowed to Rashford's requests. Rashford's latest project, a book club for underprivileged kids, has also been backed by Boris. But while Rashford is certainly doing well in enacting change, when it comes to scrutiny, some of Rashford's legion of admirers are less keen on the attention given to their idol.
'What a result! Campaigning football star Marcus Rashford has bought five luxury homes worth more than £2million,' said a headline in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend. The piece reported that Rashford had snapped up a number of houses on an estate in Wilmslow, Cheshire, as well as a house and flat in Macclesfield.
It wasn't long before a furious backlash erupted. 'Here they go. This is how they start. Subtle to begin with, but it will grow. It’s what they do,' wrote former footballer Gary Lineker. 'Where’s the story in that,' asked Patrick Barclay, a football biographer. 'Appalling', he added. For the Guardian's Jonathan Liew, it amounted to a 'sinister attack on a young black man'. Rashford also waded in:
'Ok, so let’s address this. I’m 23. I came from little. I need to protect not just my future but my family’s too. To do that I made a decision at the beg of 2020 to start investing more in property. Please don’t run stories like this alongside refs to ‘campaigning’.'
You might happen to agree with Rashford's decision to invest his money. After all, there will come a time when he is no longer earning £200,000 a week, and investing in bricks and mortar is a (relatively) safe bet. But shouldn't we at least be allowed to talk about it? And while Rashford might object to the description of himself as a 'campaigning' footballer, isn't that what he is?
Stories about footballers buying houses have been doing the rounds for years. Liverpool fans used to chant 'We all live in a Robbie Fowler house' to the tune of 'Yellow Submarine', a reference to their former striker's extensive portfolio of property. Did Gary Lineker – who is, as it happens, listed as a director of GCGL Properties, a property development company – object to these chants too?
You might agree or not with Rashford's decision to snap up some properties. But it is wrong to pretend that there is anything sinister going on here. Football is big business and fans pore over every detail about their favourite players. Plenty of people will be interested to know what Rashford is spending his hard-earned fortune on.
If Rashford is indeed considering renting out these properties, perhaps the biggest irony is that the Mail on Sunday is actually likely to be supportive of him, certainly more so that other newspapers. Guardian columnist Rhik Samadder once urged landlords to 'get a proper job':
'The notion of houses as investment opportunities of any sort has been a cancer. Here’s a radical idea: buy a home if you can, then live in it, and do something else with your time. Something that isn’t about exploiting the less privileged.'
Not everyone, of course, would agree with such a characterisation of landlords. But this at least shows that talking about property and buying houses is a subject people get fired up about. Hacked Off, never one to miss an opportunity to go after certain newspapers, responded to Marcus Rashford by telling him:
'We are sorry to hear about your experience with the press. We support victims of press misconduct and would be happy to offer any assistance.'
They – and the other critics of this article about Marcus Rashford – would be wise to wake up to the fact that there's no scandal here and nothing 'sinister' about wondering what a footballer spends his money on.