The world of sport and local communities across England have thrown their support behind Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka after they were subjected to racist abuse following their penalty misses in the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.
After full time and extra time ended 1-1 at Wembley on Sunday, the final was settled on a penalty shootout, which Italy won 3-2 after Rashford hit the post and Sancho and Saka had their efforts saved. All three players have since received racist abuse online, while a mural of Rashford in his home town of Withington was defaced.
The abuse prompted a police investigation and wide condemnation from England's captain Harry Kane, manager Gareth Southgate, and millions more, including high-profile athletes across the world of sport and countless supporters.
In a letter released on his social media accounts on Monday night, Rashford said: "I felt as though I had let my teammates down. I felt as if I’d let everyone down. I can score penalties in my sleep so why not that one? All I can say is sorry. I wish it had gone differently."
Manchester United forward Rashford, who has become an influential campaigner against food poverty and homelessness in the UK, added: "I’ve grown into a sport where I expect to read things written about myself. Whether it be the colour of my skin, where I grew up, or, most recently, how I decide to spend my time off the pitch. I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from."
Rashford, Sancho, and Saka all received an outpouring of support in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final and that support continued throughout Tuesday.
The vandalised mural in Rashford's hometown was swiftly covered up with hundreds of messages of support and its artist, Akse P19, has now restored the original artwork while keeping the surrounding messages in place.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said all three players deserve praise for showing the character and bravery to take a penalty and expects Rashford to bounce back.
"When you step up to take a penalty, I think you’ve already won,” Solskjaer told the Manchester United website. "You’ve taken on the responsibility and I’m sure many of the players are hoping 'I don’t want to take a penalty'.
"You learn from it and definitely come back stronger. I know Marcus is going to put his hand up and say he wants to take one for us."
Rashford's United teammate Paul Pogba, who represented France at Euro 2020, addressed all three players in an Instagram post when he wrote: "I am proud of you. You took the courage to take the penalties and you showed your worth to help your country reach the final.
"We cannot tolerate or stand for racism anymore and we will never stop combating it. You boys should hold your heads high and be proud of your confidence. You are examples of this beautiful game. Never forget that."
Later on Tuesday, the England football team posted an illustration captioned "our three lions" of Rashford, Sancho, and Saka with lion shadows. La Liga club Barcelona showed their support by posting a photo of the England team accompanied with the words: "Losing a penalty shootout is part of football, and a part of life. Racism is not."
Athletes from other sports have also expressed their support for Rashford, Sancho, and Saka. NBA star Carmelo Anthony, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, quote-tweeted Rashford's letter and wrote: "We often forget in the spirit of competition that the very people you root for or against are human nonetheless. We’re with you Marcus Rashford."
English golfer Tommy Fleetwood, who is aiming to win his first major at the British Open this week having finished runner-up in the last edition in 2019, said he can relate to the England players' heartbreak and has backed Saka to use the personal disappointment as motivation.
"I know what it feels like to come very, very close to your dream and not achieve it, so I sort of can relate to what the guys are feeling in a way, just without the added nation that's behind them," Fleetwood said.
"Saka is a 19-year-old kid. He's got an amazing career in front of him if he's allowed to blossom and create his own path. It's important that they can move on and become the players that they can be. I do think England have a very big future in football."