It wasn’t so long ago that football fans and the rich young players they idolised were deemed by wider ­society to be lower than street muggers or City ­bankers.

The first group was ­stereotyped as aggressive yobs and the second as self-obsessed worshippers of bling. Many who gag at the mere mention of

football still believe those generalisations, and it’s possible that, in between me writing this and you reading it, someone will have done something to prove them right.

But nothing can deny the remarkable truth that, thanks to so many people taking principled stands in a time of cowardice among supposed leaders, footballers and fans have gone from national pariahs to the country’s conscience.

With action against child food poverty and exploitative pay-per-view (PPV) they have exposed those in charge as lacking emotional intelligence and are forcing them into ­embarrassing U-turns.

Marcus Rashford has played a leading role

They have unmasked the people who run the ­country, and who run football, as the heartless exploiters that they are.

And we could just be witnessing a watershed moment for both of these much-maligned groups.

Marcus Rashford has been simply sensational in his drive to shame this Tory government into feeding our poorest kids.

In a week when Lewis Hamilton is being hailed the greatest British sportsman ever, an equally valid claim is that no British sportsperson has ever had such a profound effect on government policy than this 22-year-old, who was so little known by the Cabinet four months ago that the Health Secretary called him Daniel.

And he is inspiring others.

Raheem Sterling is planning to launch a foundation aimed at helping disadvantaged young people

Leeds United players have donated £25,000 to his charity and ­Raheem Sterling has vowed he is “done talking” and announced a foundation to push kids from ­deprived backgrounds up the social-mobility ladder so those at the bottom can see “there is something better to England”.

How soon before other young players will realise that it’s not just fine but desirable to have a social conscience. And, if you’re going to grow your brand, the best way may be to swap the GQ fashion shoots for giving something back to those you came from.

That’s what many thousands of fans have been doing as a response to the Premier League’s cynical attempt to squeeze even more out of them by ­charging £14.95 to watch extra games on top of their already pricey TV packages. The campaign to snub PPV and instead ­donate that £15 to charity went viral on social media and led to an amazing ­response.

Newcastle fans donated money to charity instead

Fans from Brighton, Crystal Palace and north London in the south, to Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle in the north raised more than £300,000 in a few weeks of the PPV boycott, most of it going to local foodbanks.

The meek have always argued that national fan activism will never work because football is so ­addictive that the majority will always defy the collective and pay for their fix. Well it just has. The mass outrage and dire viewing figures (averaging 39,000) tell the Premier League it has lost the moral and ­economic arguments.

The clubs may not have backed down on PPV at Tuesday’s meeting but at the next one they will cut the price and may eventually kill it. Because they have been demolished by a simple slogan – Feed the needy, not the greedy – and been left looking cheap and out of touch. The genie is out of the bottle.

The PPV boycott, like Rashford’s school-meals campaign, has been ­empowering and, hopefully, as we face a future of even more poverty and inequality, action will spread.

Now that supporters have found a voice and a collective way of getting it heard by uniting tribes and organising from below, things may never be the same again.

Suddenly fans and footballers are on the right side of history. And the people they are shaming look the national pariahs.

Long may it continue.