Marcus Rashford mural vandalised with racist graffiti, police say

An official probe has been launched after a mural honouring footballer Marcus Rashford was defaced following England's defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday night, police have announced. Graffiti - which Greater Manchester Police (GMP) described as "racially aggravated" - appeared on the artwork, in Withington, Manchester, after the match. It was not immediately clear what had been written, but a local man, Ed Wellard, was pictured covering up the words with bin liners.

Later on Monday, residents from Withington - where Rashford is from - decorated the black squares with messages of love and support for him. One sign, in the shape of a heart, said "Hero", while another called him a "role model". In a statement, published this evening, Rashford apologised for missing his penalty but said he would never be sorry for the "colour of my skin" or "where I came from".

Commenting on the show of support from locals, he added: "Seeing the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears. I'm Marcus Rashford, [a] 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that."

GMP said it would be working alongside Manchester City Council and Akse, the street artist who created the powerful image of the Manchester United and England striker, "to ensure this graffiti is removed and the mural is repaired as soon as possible". Officers added in a statement that they were alerted to the damage at about 2.50am on Monday. Ch Supt Paul Savill, of GMP's City of Manchester division, branded the act "disgraceful" and said it "will absolutely not be tolerated".

"Greater Manchester prides itself on being made up from a number of diverse communities, and hate crime in any form is completely unacceptable and not welcome here in our city," he said. "GMP takes crimes of this nature very seriously and an investigation has been launched. If anyone has any information that could help us to identify this offender, please do not hesitate to speak to police."

No arrests have been made and inquiries are ongoing. News of the incident comes after England manager Gareth Southgate spoke out about the "unforgivable" racist abuse aimed at Rashford and fellow England players Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after their penalty attempts in Sunday's historic match. All three players missed penalties in the 3-2 shootout against Italy, and were targeted on social media after the game.

The Metropolitan Police swiftly announced that the attacks would be investigated. "It's just not what we stand for," Mr Southgate said at a press conference on Monday where he discussed his team's loss. "We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue." Directing anger away from the players and towards himself, Mr Southgate, who has managed England since 2016, reminded the nation that "it's my decision who takes the penalties, it's not a case of players not volunteering or more experienced players backing out".

Boris Johnson, the Football Association (FA) and Prince William have also condemned the attacks. "This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media," the prime minister tweeted. "Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves." England players have been on the receiving end of criticism throughout the tournament due to their decision to take the knee before games in a bid to highlight the fight against racial inequality.

When the tournament started on 11 June, Mr Johnson was denounced for refusing to condemn fans who booed when players performed the act during warm-up games, as was his home secretary Priti Patel, who branded taking the knee "gesture politics". Mr Johnson went as far as saying he "disapproved of people booing the England team" when asked at the time, adding: "I see no reason to do that." But he continued: "When it comes to gestures and symbols, I'm more on the side of practical action to combat racism and make life better for everybody in this country."

This led to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accusing his political opponent of not having "the guts to call it out". The mural of Rashford was commissioned in recognition of his work to tackle child food poverty, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, for which he received an MBE from the Queen. "We dared to dream yesterday and our hopes were dashed, but to wake up to this is more depressing.

Racism seems to be more and more prevalent," Mr Wellard, who co-founded Withington Walls, a community street art project which helped bring about the painting, said earlier.

Anyone with any information about the vandalism is encouraged to contact police on 0161 856 4973, quoting incident number 453 of 12/7/2021 - or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.