Marcus Rashford said he was “lost for words” after hundreds of well-wishers repaired a mural of the England star that was vandalised and then took the knee on Tuesday evening.
Around 200 people, including some with signs reading “Black Lives Matter” made the symbolic gesture beside the recently desecrated artwork in south Manchester.
Artist Akse P19 has since repainted his monochrome depiction of the England player after it was scrawled with racist graffiti.
Hundreds of people have visited the artwork and left tributes to the Manchester United star with heart-shaped post-its, and adorned it with England flags.
The mural was targeted just hours after England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday evening. After the match Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were targeted with racist abuse that has been widely condemned.
Addressing the crowd after they took the knee beside the mural on Tuesday evening, protester Lamin Touray said online abuse aimed at Rashford, and his teammates has “ignited an anti-racist movement” in Manchester.
Mr Touray said: “Those players have shown us everything that is good about this country, black and white united against racism, taking a strong stance.
“We know the powers that be want this to go away, and the attack on Sancho and Rashford and Saka has ignited the anti-racist movement in this country and in this beautifully diverse city.”
Rashford thanked fans for their support on Tuesday night, tweeting: “Overwhelmed. Thankful. Lost for words.”
Protester Nahella Ashraf took aim at the Prime Minister and Home Secretary for staying silent when fans booed the England squad taking the knee at Wembley Stadium.
She told the crowd: “Three black footballers have been viciously racially attacked on social media, but let’s be very honest – are we surprised?
“When the football team began taking the knee in solidarity, and against racism, they were booed, and what did Boris Johnson say? Not much. What did Priti Patel say?
“It’s an absolute disgrace.”
The mural, based on a photograph by Daniel Cheetham, was created last November in recognition of Rashford‘s work to tackle child food poverty.
His mother provided the quote on the mural, which reads: “Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose.”
Ed Wellard, the founder of Withington Walls, the community street art project behind the mural, covered the graffiti with bin bags on Monday, and hours later fans flocked to cover it with flags, flowers and anti-racism messages telling the striker he was a “hero” and “adored”.
He said: “There’s been an outpouring of kind of love and solidarity, and it’s really heartening.
“It’s a lovely thing isn’t it? I watched the footage with my friends and saw those penalties being missed and all I felt was empathy and compassion for those young men, they’ve done themselves proud, on and off the pitch.
“I gave my 11-year-old boy a hug because he was crying and I wanted to give the players a hug.”
The word “f***” was scrawled over the huge artwork and the words “shit” and “bastard” were also written beside the word “Sancho”.