STICK to football, that is what they keep telling Marcus Rashford as he campaigns to end child poverty and hunger.
That is what some told Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho when they spoke out against racism.
And that is what many suggested to Danny Rose when he opened up about suffering depression.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Rashford’s employers, Manchester United and the FA, were desperate to keep their players gagged from speaking in public.
But Rashford, who received an MBE last week for his charity work and social campaigning, is adamant this generation of England footballers will NOT be silenced.
Like his team-mates, Rashford – who faces Denmark in the Nations League at Wembley tonight – has a high profile and vast social media following.
And like many of his contemporaries, he is determined to use his status to influence wider society.
The 22-year-old said: “Especially in our generation, there’s more people speaking out on issues they feel strongly about.
“That definitely gives you the element of freedom to speak about things that are important to you.
“That’s how everything first started for me, just speaking on something I thought was right.
“I don’t think players should feel bad about doing that.
“The more players do it, the more of an eye-opener it is as to how many people we can help and affect.
“For me it’s a positive thing that people feel the freedom to speak out.
“You can’t control what people are going to say about you. The thing that’s important to me is helping the people we’ve helped so far and many more, hopefully, in the future.
“I know it’s a very touchy topic and I have to keep things as simple as possible so I can stay focused on the pitch. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Rashford grew up in relative poverty in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, raised by a hard-working single mum.
The forward attempted to tackle the issue of child hunger a few years ago, but focused his efforts more successfully when recovering from a back injury during lockdown.
He soon helped raise more than £20million for child-poverty charity Fareshare, providing 3.5million free meals per week at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
He then forced a Government U-turn on free school meals, allowing vulnerable kids to be fed during the summer holidays.
Rashford said: “I had a back injury so I couldn’t do any exercise and couldn’t do any gym work.
“I was literally just doing recovery bits and I’ve always struggled when I don’t have anything to work towards.
“So I just thought ‘let me have another go at an issue that I tried to start tackling a few years ago’.
“We took more time and analysed the facts and figures. Now it’s about keeping momentum.
“As long as things move in the right direction and I can see those numbers are dropping and more families are seeking help – and don’t feel ashamed to ask for help – they’re the things that make me happy.
“I’m ambitious about what the future holds.
“The motivation is there because of the things I experienced when I was younger and the people I’ve known who have been through it.
“The ambition to help people in difficult situations has always been there.
“As I’ve got older, in order to help people in the best way you need to understand them and know the facts.”
Rashford says he gave no thought to refusing his MBE, believing the award has given further publicity to his cause.
But he made it clear when his gong was announced that being honoured by the Government would not stop him criticising it.
Around half a million British children are suffering from poverty-induced hunger.
The United star said: “Every single day it shocks me.
“I’ve had the chance to visit some of the families affected and also some families I’ve managed to help.
“It’s just mind-blowing the amount of people who are suffering and the amount of people who don’t know where to get help.
“I was in that position when I was younger and some of the families are in much worse positions than I was.
“So I can only imagine what it feels like for those parents and children who just want the best for one another.”
Rashford insisted he takes his status as a role model very seriously.
He said: “I know from people in communities that aren’t as stable as others that sometimes a dream for a kid is the one thing they can hold onto – the one thing that is actually theirs.
“As a child, don’t let go of your dreams.
“I know the world is a bit crazy at the moment but it is important for them to know that.”
But the official announcement came when Gareth Southgate’s men were at their training base, St George’s Park.
He added: “I’m happy I managed to experience it here with my England team-mates.
“The manager had a little meeting and everyone gave me a round of applause. It was nice.”
It is an England team which adamantly refuses to just stick to the football.