The vandalism of a mural of England footballer Marcus Rashford was “not believed to be of a racial nature”, police have said as they appealed for witnesses.
The artwork was attacked hours after England’s European Championship final defeat on Sunday as Rashford and fellow players Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, suffered racist abuse on social media.
The mural quickly became a colourful wall of tributes as people rallied in support of Rashford, and hundreds of people turned out for an anti-racism demonstration on Tuesday night.
Greater Manchester police had been investigating the vandalism as potentially racially aggravated but on Friday said it did not believe the graffiti was of a racial nature.
The force said it was continuing to investigate the motive for the attack but no arrests had been made. It said: “While the content of the vandalism is not believed to be of a racial nature, officers are keeping an open mind as to the motive behind defacing the artwork.”
Officers have secured CCTV footage and are analysing the spray paint used for any forensic evidence, with the results expected to be returned within weeks.
The word “fuck” was scrawled over the huge artwork and “shit” and “bastard” were also written beside the word “Sancho”.
The Manchester-based street artist Akse, who painted the mural, saw the “unacceptable” graffiti shortly after midnight on Monday. He has since repainted his monochrome depiction of the Manchester United player.
Supt Richard Timson, the district commander for GMP’s City of Manchester division, said the vandalism had “appalled” officers and they “stand with the rest of the community whose solidarity against this vile abuse ever since has really shown the best of our city”.
He added: “The person responsible for this knows who they are, and we believe there will be others who also suspect the identity of this offender, and I therefore urge anyone with such information to get in touch to help progress our enquiries at speed.”
The mural, painted in November in tribute to Rashford’s work on child food poverty, 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.
A crowdfunder by Withington Walls, a community street art project that commissions works of public art in the south Manchester suburb, has raised more than £39,000 – far exceeding its original target – as it asked for help to repair the mural.