andy Frain 120

Andy Frain

Former Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

You've Got to Hold and Give: Philanthropy and Modern Football

07 July 2021

With Euro 2020 capturing hearts and minds, Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager Andy Frain investigates the changing relationship between football and philanthropy. 

“Three Lions” might be the de facto soundtrack of England’s Euro 2020 campaign but, in truth, it is really John Barnes’ rap from “World in Motion” that captures the spirit of this England team. Cynics might suggest that the Liverpool legend was talking about on-pitch activities ahead of the 1990 World Cup, but his call to “hold and give, but do it at the right time” has clearly chimed with the class of 2021, who stand out as the most openly philanthropic England team in history.

This goes beyond the team donating your author’s doomed Scotland side their sole point of the tournament and into the very heart of the communities the players represent.

The Players

The most prominent charity campaigner in the squad is, of course, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, whose activities over the last year shot him to the top of CAF’s Giving List for the Sunday Times. His high-profile campaign to get children eligible for free school meals fed regularly when schools were shut during lockdown led to £20 million being donated to FareShare. Drawing on his own experiences as a child, Rashford made tackling food poverty in Britain one of the key issues of the pandemic, and also played a prominent role in fronting a record-breaking Times and Sunday Times Christmas charity appeal. It raised more than £3.1 million, helped by both Rashford and the match-funding of FareShare donations by former Aberdeen and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rashford isn’t the only footballing philanthropist in the England camp: Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson also managed to feature on the Giving List for his work in leading the #PlayersTogether Covid-19 appeal, which raised more than £4 million for the NHS. Henderson went on to become an ambassador for the NHS Charities Together organisation and even received an MBE for his “services to charity”.

As ever with England, it is difficult to overlook the work of Spurs striker Harry Kane, who stands out as one of the most generous footballing figures - similar to Henderson, Kane led a move by the England football team to give more than £1 million to NHS Charities Together. He also turned heads by linking up with the club where he made his debut, Leyton Orient, by sponsoring their shirts for two seasons and donating the space to three good causes. Orient’s home strip carried a message of thanks to frontline workers tackling the coronavirus pandemic and mental health charity Mind and Haven House Children's Hospice had their logos on Orient's two change shirts as part of the deal.

Footballers and philanthropy have been linked for years, but there has been a generational shift in the scale and prominence of giving by footballers. This is best exemplified by the Common Goal fund, spearheaded by Spanish midfielder Juan Mata. Common Goal encourages footballers to donate at least 1% of their wages to good causes and Mata has been joined by dozens of prominent football figures, including Jurgen Klopp and Megan Rapinoe.

This new dynamic reflects wider generational changes in giving trends – it is no coincidence that a majority of the individuals behind Common Goal and the football community’s pandemic fundraising fall firmly into the millennial generation. Millennials are considerably more likely to engage in collective giving and get behind specific social movements that engage them, rather than remaining loyal to institutions or established groups.

Football Clubs

This cause-based philanthropy extends beyond just individual players. As natural figureheads for local areas and communities, football teams have always been involved in some form of “giving back” but increasingly their charitable work is being linked to the club’s identity and values.

Like individuals, clubs are drawn to the causes that chime with them emotionally. Following the death of former club captain Marius Zaliukas last year as a result of motor neurone disease, Hearts will have MND Scotland on the front their home shirt for next season and both the Club and its supporters have undertaken several fundraising activities on behalf of the charity over the past year.

Similarly, Queens Park Rangers renamed their home at Loftus Road to support the Kiyan Prince Foundation in honour of former academy player Kiyan Prince, who lost his life to knife crime in 2006. The foundation is committed to using Kiyan's legacy to combat knife crime and other forms of youth violence and QPR help to support a number of community projects in collaboration with the organisation.

The relationships between players, clubs and the causes they support is becoming more public and increasingly identity based. Whilst every case is different, there is a key theme of pushing back against the negative perceptions of modern football and in particular the vast wealth involved in the game.

Reshaping Perceptions

Not too long ago, you would not need to search too hard for negative headlines about “pampered rich footballers” who were deemed to be out-of-touch with the average fan, and even when players did get involved in charity it was viewed somewhat cynically and written off as little more than a PR stunt. However, the philanthropic work of figures like Rashford and Kane – and the sense of genuine commitment they convey - is a clear riposte to that narrative. (My colleague Rhodri Davies explored what it is about Marcus Rashford’s approach to philanthropy that makes it so popular with the public in a previous blog).

Similarly, when the “Super League” was announced (and subsequently collapsed) earlier this year, many commentators accused football clubs of naked self-interest and a lack of understanding of, and respect for, their supporters. Support for good causes, either directly or through lending weight to fan-led initiatives like Fans Supporting Foodbanks (a joint initiative between fans of Liverpool and Everton), is a clear opportunity for clubs to push against that portrayal and to reaffirm their role as vital hubs within communities around the country.

Football has a unique and powerful voice in society and clubs, players and fans are increasingly using it to amplify the issues and causes that matter to them. Regardless of how it goes on the pitch, that in itself is a victory.