Marcus Rashford has praised the Mancunians who pulled him through one of his “lowest points.”
The Manchester United and England footballer received a tirade of racist abuse in the aftermath of the team’s loss against Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year.
Just hours after the defeat, a mural dedicated to Rashford on Copson Street in Withington was defaced with vile slurs.
In the days that followed, thousands of people visited the mural to leave messages of love and hope against a tide of hate.
Now, in a moving interview with the Sunday Mirror, the Man United star told of his joy at the “amazing response” from his former local community.
It has led to tens of thousands of pounds being raised to help deprived children and tackle food poverty.
Marcus, 24, said: “At one of my lowest points, the community wrapped their arms around me and held me up, with messages of support, donations and compassion.
“That feeling was indescribable at the time, seeing such a response.”
It began after swear words were daubed across the artwork in the Manchester Withington suburb where Marcus grew up.
The mural was then covered with thousands of heartfelt messages in the weeks following the vandalism, becoming a symbol of hope over hate.
Withington Walls – the artists project that painted it in recognition of Marcus’ work tackling child food poverty – has announced of £40,000 has been raised by well wishers.
The money will be used to restore a local kids football team’s dilapidated clubhouse and charity network FareShare aimed at relieving food poverty.
Marcus said: “To see those donations now supporting others in the area and helping them get back on their feet is amazing.”
Ed Wellard, 43, who co-founded Withington Walls, said: “The community’s amazing response to drown out the hate with love has snowballed.
“What started with those first hearts and messages of love and respect has inspired thousands more messages on the wall and online.
“The money raised can now go towards ensuring more and more children have opportunities through sport.”
A Hope Beats Hate mural has been painted on the children’s Kingsway AFC clubhouse in nearby Burnage and Levenshulme as part of BT Sport’s Hope United campaign.
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Around a third of children in the area are now growing up in poverty.
Luca Manning, 12, who plays for Kingsway, said: “Rashford is the best, not just because of his football but because of everything he has done for children.”
Luca’s mum Anna Lewis, 46, who works in children’s services, said: “Marcus is Luca’s hero. As a mixed-race boy, having a role model like Marcus who is from the area is so important to him.
“And it’s so important for youngsters to see that people like him can use their positions for positive social change.”