By Steve Murrells

Yesterday I went to visit the Marcus Rashford wall in Withington. The hundreds and hundreds of hand-written messages of support and respect for a young man who has become a role model for so many are such a powerful symbol for our city of Manchester and for the country as a whole. 

Watching the football on Sunday night and the heartbreak of the penalties, like many others I worried about the potential for a racist response. As expected, that came from some. What I don’t think anyone expected was how powerful the backlash to their backlash would be – nor to see Withington, as a community, coming together to lead the fightback. The move to cover up racist graffiti with messages of positivity hope and love has inspired people everywhere. Thousands of people have visited – young and old from the community and wider afield – and the images have gone viral.

It’s been wonderful to see Marcus’s England team-mates, the FA, politicians, business leaders and others uniting to condemn racism. For me, this community response is more meaningful and more indicative of the real social change that is underway in our country. The symbolism of personal notes, hearts, pictures and flags covering up hatred is so powerful. Love is, quite literally, covering up hate.

Of course, there is so much more to do to defeat racism. The outpouring of support we have seen for Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka does not mean we can pause for one moment. At the Co-op we’re determined to play our part; we’re still on our own journey, but working with others, we know we can make real improvements to achieve greater diversity and inclusion and to tackle social injustice. 

I’d love to hear from you if you are a person, grassroots group or national organisation with ideas or perspectives on what we can do across our business or with our 4.5 million members to go further in being anti-racist and help drive progress.  

I believe so strongly in the power of co-operation and partnership. Our work with Marcus is just one example of many. We came together during the pandemic on the issue of free school meals, given our role running the Co-op Academies Trust. He was able to achieve so much in such a small amount of time by inspiring people to come together.   

We already knew he was a hero – and he has proved that again this week, with his grace under pressure. To receive such vile abuse from people who can only be described as mindless bullies and to respond as he has, shows yet again what a role model he is.

He knows who he is and these words from him, showing that calm self-belief and faith in his community, are ideals for us all to live by: “The messages I have received today have been positively overwhelming and seeing the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears. The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up. I’m Marcus Rashford, 23 year old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that.”

Let Steve know what you think about the themes / issues raised in this blog