“We’re going to take the knee like the footballers do,” said Nahella Ashraf, leading a crowd of at least 300 people in performing the anti-racism gesture in front of the freshly repainted mural of Marcus Rashford on Tuesday evening.

e’re going to take the knee like the footballers do,” said Nahella Ashraf, leading a crowd of at least 300 people in performing the anti-racism gesture in front of the freshly repainted mural of Marcus Rashford on Tuesday evening.

Ashraf, a member of Manchester Stand Up to Racism, said she aimed to show “we are the majority” after the mural was defaced in the wake of England’s Euro 2020 final defeat.

For Ed Wellard there had been “a kind of inevitability” to hearing the news of the vandalism. Wellard is a co-founder of Withington Walls, a community street art project that commissions works of public art in the south Manchester suburb where Rashford spent his early years before the family moved to Wythenshawe. At 7am on Monday he was at the site of the mural to cover up the graffiti, which police are investigating as racially aggravated damage.

Since then, wellwishers have poured in to leave poems, posters and messages, including a father and his two children who had travelled from Birmingham. In a tweet on Tuesday evening, Rashford said simply: “Overwhelmed. Thankful. Lost for words.”

Norma Morgan, Fay Banton and Carol Wright, Rashford’s “aunties” and godmother, were all brimming with pride for the young man they have known since he was a baby, and fizzing with indignation at the abuse. What would it mean to him and the family to see so many gathered in solidarity? “He would love it. At this point in time, he’s so low,” said Banton.

The Manchester-based street artist Akse, who painted the mural, saw the graffiti, which he described as “unacceptable”, shortly after midnight on Monday. “We always feel upset, but we knew we were going to fix it,” he said. He was unable to repaint the mural on Monday because of the rain, and in the meantime, he saw the outpouring of support. “I love the spirit,” he said. To see more messages throughout the day was “really overwhelming and really cool to see the community coming together”.

Nine-year-old Noor, when asked what she liked about Rashford, replied: “He always keeps going and never gives up.”. Noor attends Old Moat primary school, where Rashford also went for a time. Anne Hinds, a maths teacher, said he was a positive role model who encouraged the children to keep believing in themselves. “They need that,” she said.

“It’s evolved into something really special, hasn’t it?” Wellard said. On Monday he had said he felt “pretty sad about our society that this was where we were”. “It felt like we taken all these leaps forward with that team, they were promoting diversity and equality and inclusion, and they seemed like a pretty decent set of lads, but yet this nasty element is still there in British football and in British society,” he continued.

Wellard said he wanted to show empathy and compassion for the three footballers who had missed penalties and were facing abuse, and that was what “the people of Withington and Manchester stepped up and have done with these notes on the mural”.

Tuesday evening’s crowd, which spanned all ages and a range of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths, including an archbishop and a rabbi, chanted “black lives matter” and “we are the opposition”.

Signs in tribute to Christopher Alder, who died in police custody in Leeds in 1998, accompanied handmade posters reading: “Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear football boots.” One wellwisher had left flowers with an anonymous note: “I won’t apologise for sending a man I’ve never met flowers, however I will apologise for the small percentage of fuckwits on this island. Much love from a large percentage.”

Withington Walls’ crowdfunder to raise money to repair the mural vastly exceeded the original target within hours. Wellard said many of those donating could not make it to the mural in person but wanted to show solidarity and stand up to racism.

Painted in November 2020 in tribute to Rashford’s work on child food poverty, the mural includes a quote from the footballer’s mother, who raised him and his four siblings on her own. “Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose,” it reads. By early afternoon that quote had been covered with messages from wellwishers.

Akse, who is French-Vietnamese, recalled his own experiences of racism as a child, which he said had made him stop speaking his first language of Vietnamese for years after being bullied.

The artist, who said he chose subjects that inspired him “and the community”, has had to repair another of his murals, depicting George Floyd, in Manchester city centre, four times after racist graffiti.

“Racism has no place in society. So when things like that happen, I’m just going to fix it,” he said.

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