ALL police leave has been cancelled this weekend ahead of mass demonstrations in support of Chelsea defender Ashley Cole.
Cities up and down the country are expected to witness the largest protests held in peacetime as hundreds of thousands of activists express their fury at the charges brought against Cole by the Football Association.
Last night saw candlelit vigils in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, while in North London, where Cole is held in deep affection, there was a unique ecumenical gathering of Christians, Jews and Muslims to offer prayers.
Meanwhile, the Ashley Cole Appeal Fund, set up to provide financial support for the defender should he challenge the FA decision, has raised more than £5 million in just 48 hours.
Eleanor Shaw, who set up the Fund, said: “I’m a single parent with four children trying to get by on disability benefits. Life is hard but it’s always been a comfort to know that Ashley Cole wasn’t being disrespected. And now, this.
“The people of Britain have a message for the FA – ‘We are all Ashley Cole now’.”
Such is the strength of national feeling that teenager Wayne Hayes was sentenced to six months in jail for gross offensiveness after posting on Facebook: “If you ask me, Ashley Cole is the real twat LOL.”
Cole biographer, Roy Hobbs, said: “There are some athletes who transcend sports and become truly universal, iconic figures of love and affection. Muhammad Ali achieved that to a small extent but he scarcely compares to Ashley Cole.
“Truly, he is the people’s left back, the left back of all our hearts.”
He added: “Some modern footballers are spoiled, obscenely overpaid, scruple-averse self-pitying egotists wedged so tightly up their own sphincters that they exist entirely in the element of their own, self-pumped shit.
“But Ashley Cole’s not like that at all. That’s why everyone loves him.”