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Liverpool’s Andy Robertson ‘puts rivalries aside’ to tackle food poverty

The Liverpool defender has been helping food banks since long before the Covid-19 pandemic. He speaks to The Big Issue on Marcus Rashford and why the time is now for football to come together to beat hunger

In football’s traditional tribal circles, Andy Robertson could not be any more different to Marcus Rashford.

Defence versus attack, Liverpool versus Manchester United, Scotland versus England, the pair find themselves on opposite sides of old, often-bitter rivalries in normal sporting times.

But these are not normal sporting times.

Speaking to The Big Issue from Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Robertson insists that, now more than ever, football is united against child food poverty.

“Marcus is a credit to everyone in the way he goes about his business and, of course, I’m sure he wished he didn’t have to do it either,” says Robertson. “We’re all in the situation where people need to start doing things and he’s at the top of that tree just now.

“He’s a credit to football. Forget any rivalry, it’s nothing because we all have the same view as Marcus on this. He is definitely making his voice heard.”

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Scotland captain Robertson may not have been sharing phone calls with Boris Johnson and triggering government u-turns in recent weeks, like Rashford, but he has been quietly using his Premier League platform to help others.

He will launch his new charity AR26 this month to help young people get on in the world at a time when opportunities are thin on the ground, whether due to financial hardship or illness.

And in recent weeks he has joined forces with Street Soccer Scotland (SSS), following Sir Alex Ferguson in becoming an ambassador for the social enterprise that helps vulnerable people through football. The homelessness charity has won the Homeless World Cup twice with their Scotland teams, so aside from mentoring players and offering life advice he might even pick up a few World Cup tips for his own Scotland side.

We’re socially conscious, of course we are. Our chat in the last couple of months on the training ground is probably no different than a lot of people’s workplaces

But all this is nothing new. Even before Covid-19 put food poverty into the spotlight, Robertson was doing his bit to help out food banks.

In March, at the start of the pandemic, he donated cash to help six food banks around Glasgow while the national debate centred on whether top-tier footballers should take a pay cut to help out.

He has previously forged links with Fans Supporting Foodbanks – a group of Everton and Liverpool fans taking on food poverty in Merseyside – encouraging donations and volunteering at a Liverpool food bank in 2018.

The Scot says that conversations about food poverty and worries and fears for the future are just as prevalent among players on the Liverpool training ground as they are elsewhere.

“We’re socially conscious, of course we are. Our chat in the last couple of months on the training ground is probably no different than a lot of people’s workplaces,” says Robertson.

“We’re in fortunate positions but some of our family face uncertainty, our friends face uncertainty and, of course, the wider community do so we are very conscious of it.

“We’re very concerned about how it’s all going to pan out, but if we can help in any way possible then we’ll look to do that. We’re not going to solve the problem that the pandemic has left alone.

“But if everyone pulls in the right direction, then we can hopefully get the economy back to where it was and get people back in work. People don’t want to rely on benefits or food banks because work is their community and it is their life and that’s been taken away from them through unforeseen circumstances.”

Robertson’s own upbringing is the driving force not only behind his on-field successes, but his off-field focus too.

Growing up in the staunchly working class Maryhill area of Glasgow, the 26 year old is open about the challenges of his upbringing. Robertson describes his family as “by no means well-off” but he clung on to being “fortunate to have a roof over our head and dinner on the table every night”.

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It’s a reality of life that has stuck with him throughout an already glittering football career. That has faced adversity too – Robertson was dropped by boyhood club Celtic as a teenager before making the grade at Queen’s Park and using that opportunity to elevate him where he is today.

Even though he is now in a different world of Premier League pay packets, the need for that first opportunity and life’s essentials to be taken care of is not lost on him.

“We can at least give people a meal each day and make sure they’re fed whatever their circumstances are,” he concludes. “It doesn’t sit well with me if we don’t.

“It’s incredible the amount of people that rely on food banks, it’s scary. And, unfortunately, that number is only going to get higher with what’s going on in the world just knowing people are losing jobs and things like that.

“So people that are fortunate enough to have a job and get paid well – I believe we can give that back because these people need us now probably more than ever.”

Robertson’s letter to a young Liverpool fan who donated pocket money to a food bank went viral in 2018.

Back then, he sent a signed shirt from Brazilian forward Robert Firmino to the boy, quipping “no one wants the left-back’s shirt”.

As football’s goalposts have shifted to tackling food poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic and our sporting heroes’ social contributions are also acknowledged, Robertson’s shirt may now be a sought-after symbol of hope for hard-hit fans.

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