sport news OLIVER HOLT: Marcus Rashford is our first sporting hero turned statesman

There is a scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life that some say is the greatest closing sequence in film history. 

It is Christmas Eve and George Bailey, played by James Stewart, a man who has always fought for the welfare of ordinary people, is facing financial ruin and prison because of the imminent collapse of his Building and Loan enterprise. And then the townsfolk of Bedford Falls begin to arrive at his house.

It turns out people have been told of his plight. ‘They scattered all over town, collecting money,’ his Uncle Billy tells him. ‘They didn’t ask any questions, just said, “If George is in trouble, count me in”.’

And with that, a procession of local men and women stream in. Mr Martini and Mr Gower and Violet Bick all press money into his hand. ‘I’ve been saving this money for a divorce, if ever I get a husband,’ says another woman, proffering her cash.

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There is a reason that some cinemas still show It’s a Wonderful Life every year in the week leading up to Christmas even though it was made way back in 1946. The reason is that some of its themes endure.

It is about love and hope and the importance of the simple kindnesses that people perform and the effect those kindnesses have on others and the way that they are paid forward and the sense of community they engender. This year, it felt as if the re-runs of the film started a couple of months early. Except this time, it wasn’t on celluloid.

This time, it came in an outpouring of generosity and selflessness and support on the Twitter timeline of a young footballer who had begged the Government to extend their provision of free school meals for disadvantaged kids only for his pleas to be rebuffed by a Commons vote.

There was something incredibly moving about the offers of help for hungry schoolkids that started flooding in from all over the country, often from businesses in the catering industry which have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and many of which are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. They put their own hardships to one side to pledge their support.

Rashford has been fighting the fight on social media and received the backing of the nation

Rashford has been fighting the fight on social media and received the backing of the nation

Marcus Rashford unlocked something in people. That has been his greatest triumph so far. For the past four years, this has felt like a country riven by discord and division, by polarising politics and by racial disharmony. But suddenly, Rashford allowed us to show the best of British life and character again. Something about the authenticity of his compassion allowed us to join together, not pull each other apart. It felt like a kind of healing.

I looked at his timeline on Friday and realised I hadn’t felt such optimism and hope about the power of people coming together in this country since the London Olympics in 2012. The atmosphere in the UK then was heady and wondrous. It felt like a coming of age for modern Britain. It felt as though anything was possible. So much has regressed since and too often we have sunk into spite and enmity but this week Rashford brought the best out in us again.

The responses came from far and wide, like flaming beacons lighting up the ether. From Grandpa Greene’s in Oldham, The Avenue Deli in Reading, The Green Man pub in Eversholt, Lime Bar at Salford Quays, Hugo’s Greengrocer Deli in Bedminster and The Potting Shed in Guiseley. ‘No questions asked,’ said Palm, in Chester, ‘we’re all in this together.’

The offers came from community football clubs and district councils, from Rosie’s Kitchen in Bude, The Bread and Butter Thing in Darlington, the Loaf Cafe and Bakery in Belfast, Moo Moos Steakhouse in Ashington, Popat Mithai and Farsan in Leicester, Huffkins Cotswolds Bakery in Stow-on-the-Wold,

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