Scousers have a deep, venomous rivalry with Mancunians. The cities of Liverpool and Manchester are a mere 30 miles apart but there is little kinship between the conurbations. They have always competed economically and culturally. The most visible battleground is between their flagship football teams. The relationship between Liverpool and Manchester United has often been poisonous. When English football’s heavyweight clubs clash, spite cascades down from the stands. On Sunday, Anfield will be empty for the Premier League match against United but history echoes around the old stadium. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will know they are in a hostile environment when they survey the flags and banners placed around the ground. Except for one man. Marcus Rashford has become a hero for many on Merseyside who would normally revile a United player. Liverpool and Man United streets ahead in English Premier League TV ratings “When the fans come back, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a Manchester United striker’s name will be sung on the Kop and [Everton’s] Gwladys Street,” Ian Byrne, the member of parliament for Liverpool’s West Derby constituency, said. And Byrne is no publicity-craving politician looking to stir up controversy. The MP is a Liverpool season ticket-holder and founder of Fans Supporting Foodbanks, an initiative he set up with Dave Kelly, an Everton-supporting friend six years ago. The pair saw the devastating effects of austerity on their community and realised that more and more people could not afford to eat properly. They began collecting donations of food from supporters outside Goodison and Anfield to help provide meals for the needy. Their first collection was before an Everton game against United in 2015 and after that they became fixtures outside the stadiums, racking up 233 consecutive matches before the pandemic interrupted football in March last year. They are particularly concerned about the impact of hardship on youngsters. A reminder... pic.twitter.com/l4XEmTogUu — Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 13, 2021 “We know we can’t eradicate child poverty by collecting outside stadiums,” Kelly, a home-and-away match-going Evertonian, said. “We’ll only cure it by getting it on the national agenda.” Rashford put the issue right at the forefront of the political discourse. The 23-year-old’s campaign to alleviate child hunger has helped ensure that children who would otherwise go hungry are getting fed. The England forward forced the government into a U-turn over providing free school meals during the last summer holidays and has this week led protests against inadequate provisions supplied to deprived children stuck at home during the present lockdown. How to handle jubilant Scousers after Liverpool’s Premier League win, by a Manchester United supporter “Marcus has touched a nerve,” Byrne said. “He has the sort of principles and moral values that most people hold. He’s clever, passionate and well advised.” The man from Wythenshawe has been effective in grabbing the headlines. He has used his status as a Premier League footballer to address social issues and the growing inequality in the United Kingdom. This has changed perceptions on Merseyside. The region has a left-wing identity and Liverpool fans, in particular, cherish their socialist heritage. Bill Shankly created the modern Anfield and one of the legendary manager’s most famous quotes resonates across the Kop. “The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards,” the Scot said. “That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.” One of the reasons Jurgen Klopp is admired so much and seen as a perfect fit for Liverpool is that the German’s beliefs echo Shankly’s words. Kopites love their icons to espouse political and communal values that reflect their own. It is more conflicting when their enemies take a leading role in the battle for social justice. There has been talk of a banner honouring Rashford on the Kop on Sunday as a gesture of solidarity but some diehards would find that hard to take. Matt Busby was a former captain of Liverpool and was initially groomed for the manager’s job before United came calling. Shankly’s fellow Scot and great friend has almost been written out of Anfield’s history. That is the United effect. I appreciate this, thank you @theofficialfwa and thank you @WayneRooney for the message. Loved that ♥️ https://t.co/i69aNN2ERW — Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 14, 2021 Rashford is hard to ignore, though. He is not the only professional footballer to emerge from the Coronavirus emergency with credit. Jordan Henderson organised a fund for the National Health Service in the early days of the pandemic and many fellow professionals do unheralded work to help others. Yet Rashford stands out for his youth, persistence, intelligence and success. He has become more than a sportsman. He is a national treasure. That is recognised on Merseyside, a place where an element of political myopia can creep in. Scousers sometimes forget that Manchester was a radical place when Liverpool was still a bastion of the establishment that was nicknamed “Torytown”. For all their rivalry, the cities have much in common. Even though Liverpool and United have capitalist American owners and global fanbases, the roots of the clubs are deep in the communities from which they grew. Rashford represents the best of working-class culture and football is still the greatest expression of that culture. Rashford has straddled a gap that some might have thought unbridgeable. Scousers not only respect and admire this young Mancunian, they like him. He is a symbol of something bigger than winning matches, something much more important than titles and silverware. He is a flag-bearer for compassion, decency and community. Legions of football fans share similar views. Across Britain, stadiums have become focal points for the battle against hunger and poverty. Like Rashford, supporters have risen to the challenge of combating hardship and the United striker’s example is inspiring. “Marcus has created an unstoppable movement,” Byrne said. “Football can be a force for good.” It has become hard for Kopites to hate Rashford. They recognise a kindred spirit. Even if he scores against their team, there are not enough chants and flags to adequately honour his efforts.