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Liverpool play their part as football puts rivalry aside to unite during groundbreaking week

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There is more that unites than divides those involved in football.

While the squabbling and bickering has raged on unabashed for months over the desired fate of a Premier League in suspension, events this week have put it all neatly into perspective.

It’s been a remarkable few days for those involved at the highest level, both on and off the pitch. One that is unlikely to be forgotten quickly.

First, it was Marcus Rashford who took centre stage.

At the tender age of 22, he used his considerable platform as a Manchester United and England player to urge action from the government.

An issue close to his own heart, Rashford called for the country’s leaders to extend a free school meal scheme into the summer months in an attempt to provide some much-needed relief to struggling families across the nation.

Working with charity FareShare UK, Rashford helped raise as much as £20m to supply three million meals to vulnerable people before an emotional open address to the government.

“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that – and it’s very difficult to find a way out,” Rashford said.

“It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling. Whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change – that’s why I wrote it.”

After the campaign gathered momentum on social media, Downing Street announced a £120m fund which will benefit children in England across the coming weeks.

Rashford’s actions were widely praised across the game, with Liverpool’s own Twitter account highlighting the work of a player from their most traditionally sworn of enemies in Manchester United.

“Children in our region will benefit because of the actions of this remarkable role model” tweeted Liverpool’s official account in response to United’s post celebrating the actions of their player.

“From Liverpool with love.”

The ‘like’ button was hit in its thousands as Reds supporters piled in to offer words of praise for United’s star.

Rashford can expect to earn himself a hearty cheer when he is next in the company of a live crowd at Anfield after this.

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After that came more unity from the Premier League’s leading lights as Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were seen alongside Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling demanding racial equality and giving their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a video for social media, Henderson and Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared with Man City greats Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne, as well as ex-captain Vincent Kompany, among others, to demand a change in attitudes towards ethnic minorities.

Something as trivial footballing rivalry was put aside as Henderson and Oxlade-Chamberlain became Liverpool’s representation for a cause that has swept across the world following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

It is not the first time the Liverpool players have been keen to express their backing for the BLM cause, with the entire Reds squad symbolically showing their support following the death of Mr Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

Gini Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk were the masterminds behind the idea of taking the knee after a training session before their actions were swiftly followed by the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham.

Liverpool players take a knee in memory of George Floyd at Anfield on June 1, 2020
Liverpool players take a knee in memory of George Floyd at Anfield on June 1, 2020

“I have been very proud of the boys for a long time, but this was another extraordinary moment,” said Jurgen Klopp. “When I saw them there and this photo was taken, I was really proud, because it is also an important message. No question about it.”

The Black Lives Matter cause is the latest movement that Henderson has been at the forefront of championing during lockdown following his pioneering work to help kick-start the Players Together initiative in April.

Henderson, who turned 30 earlier this week, reached out to his Premier League counter-parts to help set up a fund to donate to an overburdened and underfunded NHS following the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Jordan Henderson might be the captain of the European champions but he is also a working-class lad from Sunderland who deserves full credit for bringing us all together, showing what makes a true leader,” said Burnley skipper Ben Mee at the time.

As many as 27 of the Liverpool squad supported the scheme, while back in March, they helped get a £40,000 sum together for local foodbanks put at risk by the suspension of football at Anfield and Goodison Park.

Once more, on-field issues were boxed to the side as Premier League stars made a mockery of the unfair stereotype they have sometimes been painted as during the last three months.

The unions even spread onto the pitch itself on Wednesday evening as the Premier League returned for the first games in a hundred days.

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With Aston Villa hosting Sheffield United and Arsenal travelling to Manchester City, all players from the four teams were more than willing to take the knee during the game in a show of solidarity with protesters across the United States and England.

It was a big moment. One that showed how the diverse Premier League collective were willing to get behind one of the most important issues of our time. Actions speak louder than words, after all.

“I see it as a massive step for the Premier League to allow something like that to happen,” said Sterling after the game. He was right.

The on-field conflicts are a big part of the reason the sport is watched by millions the world over, but when it comes down the biggest matters in society, football has proven that everyone is on the same page.

Players have shown this week that their lofty platforms can be used to affect change in this country.

As the game emerges tentatively out of the wilderness of the last three months, never has football’s power to unite been more apparent.

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