A police investigation is underway after a banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ was flown by a light aircraft over a stadium at the start of a soccer match in Manchester on Monday.
The aircraft flew over the stadium just after the start of the game between Burnley and Manchester City. In keeping with other recent English Premier League games since the competition re-started, players and staff of both teams kneeled in support of the Black Lives Matter movement just moments earlier.
“I’m ashamed and embarrassed that a small number of our fans have decided to put that around the stadium,” Burnley’s captain Ben Mee told Sky Sports after the game.
Mee said he “heard some whispers” something was going to happen as the team took to the pitch. “The club tried to stop it, but I have heard it’s a small number of people who have arranged this. I hope it doesn’t happen again,” he added.
Chief Superintendent Russ Procter with Lancashire police confirmed an investigation has been launched to find the culprit.
“We recognize that this banner will have caused offence to many people in Lancashire and beyond and we continue to liaise closely with our partners at both the club and in the local authority,” he said.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche called the flyover “unacceptable.”
“You don’t want that attributing to a whole town and its people, or to the club,” Dyche added.
Burnley, a former cotton mill town of nearly 90,000 people in north-west England, about 30 miles north of Manchester, became a site of rioting in the summer of 2001 as tensions grew between the white majority and growing ethnic minority communities.
In 2016, the town voted 66.6 percent in favor of the U.K. leaving the European Union in the Brexit referendum, seen by some as a reaction to economic deprivation and a lack of investment. In the aftermath of Monday’s incident, social media users were using hashtag #BrexitFC to talk about what happened.
In a statement released on Twitter while the game was still in progress, Burnley condemned the “offensive banner,” adding that offenders will receive lifetime bans.
However, some fans replied on Twitter to question the club’s stance and why the banner was considered offensive.
Others, including retired Black English player Darren Bent, called out the team for not having Black players on their roster. But Burnley player Dwight McNeil took issue with Bent’s message, calling it “disrespectful.”
Soccer players have joined a chorus of voices in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after worldwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last month.
Premier League teams have been universally kneeling at kickoffs since the league restarted last week after a 100-day hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have also had their names on their shirts replaced with ‘Black Lives Matter.’
Anti-discrimination body Fare has documented multiple incidents of football fans displaying ‘White Lives Matter’ banners in recent days during games in Hungary, Czech Republic and Ukraine as leagues around Europe resume play.
“The words themselves aren’t offensive, it’s just the context,” Iffy Onuora, equalities director with Professional Footballers’ Association told the BBC in the wake of the incident. “It’s the rejection of conversations we are having at the moment. That’s what it represents.”
English football’s anti-racism charity, Kick It Out, also stressed in light of the incident that the point of ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not to diminish the importance of other people’s lives.
“It is to address an imbalance and highlight that black people are being denied certain human rights simply by virtue of the color of their skin,” it said in a statement.