It’s bad enough that thugs around the country are sending abuse to England’s heroic young football stars, but now it’s emerged that a Tory MP lashed out at Marcus Rashford, too.

Natalie Elphike sent a WhatsApp message to colleagues snidely suggesting that the 23-year-old should have spent more time “perfecting his game” than “playing politics”.

Elphicke penned the comment after the Manchester United icon missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday night, as the Three Lions saw the longed-for trophy slip from their grasp.

The Dover MP said in her note: “They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.”

A screenshot was then shared across social media, forcing her to issue an apology.

She said: “I applaud the England team who gave their all in Euro 2020. Last night I shared the frustration and heartbreak of millions of other England fans.

“I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.

“Onwards to the World Cup and I look forward to Marcus Rashford’s contribution at that time.”

As well as being a sporting hero, Rashford waged a high-profile campaign to persuade the Government to provide free meals to vulnerable youngsters throughout the school holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Boris Johnson into a U-turn.

His achievements on and off the pitch have made him an inspiration to many, and earned him an MBE, so understandably Elphike’s message has sparked widespread fury.

Here’s what Twitter users and fellow politicians have had to say, as a number called for the MP to be sacked:

Even a fellow Tory MP outright condemned his colleague:

Meanwhile, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “While the country was commiserating (with) our great team, Tory MPs were sneering at the inspirational players who stepped up to feed hungry kids when they voted to leave them without food.

“Whether it’s their failure to support the vulnerable, or booing our boys after they have done our whole country proud, the Nasty Party is back.

“The question every Conservative MP needs to answer is – did they call out these appalling comments?

“And after his failure to support our players in their stance against racism, Boris Johnson must publicly condemn these disgraceful messages.

“Whose side is he on, the lion hearts on the pitch or the Tory MPs who attack them?”

Rayner also confirmed in her empassioned thread that, as someone who had relied on free school meals in their youth, she took Elphicke’s comments “personally”:

The Tory MP’s comments coincided with a tweet from right-wing commentator Darren Grimes, who posted a similar assessment of Rashford’s performance.

He wrote in the wake of England’s shattering defeat:

It all came as Rashford and his fellow young penalty shooters suffered a torrent of racist abuse, with the Football Association and PM among those condemning the hateful behaviour of some so-called England fans.

The trio’s social media pages were quickly flooded with racist comments, leading the FA to release a statement condemning the “disgusting behaviour”.

A spokesperson said: “The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.

“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.

“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real life consequences. Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse.”

Elsewhere, it emerged that a mural honouring Rashford had been vandalised in Manchester.

Graffiti appeared on the artwork, which is on the wall of the Coffee House Cafe on Copson Street, Withington, on Sunday night.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said they were alerted to the damage – which they described as “racially aggravated” – at about 2.50am on Monday.

No arrests have been made and inquiries are ongoing.

Chief Superintendent Paul Savill, of GMP’s City of Manchester division, said: “This is disgraceful behaviour and will absolutely not be tolerated.

“Greater Manchester prides itself on being made up from a number of diverse communities, and hate crime in any form is completely unacceptable and not welcome here in our city.

“GMP takes crimes of this nature very seriously and an investigation has been launched. If anyone has any information that could help us to identify this offender please do not hesitate to speak to police.”

Later on Monday morning, England manager Gareth Southgate described the hatred directed at his young players as “unforgivable” as he gave his first press conference following the painful loss.

He told reporters: “It’s just not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue.

“We have shown the power our country has when it does come together and has that energy and positivity together.

“We heal together as a team now, and we’re there for them, and I know that 99 per cent of the public will be as well.”

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