Stunt that took place during match at Etihad Stadium linked to a football hooligan firm
Police are looking into the circumstances in which a banner reading “White Lives Matter Burnley” was towed by an aircraft at a game between Manchester City and Burnley FC.
The stunt, which unfolded above the Etihad Stadium moments after players and staff had taken a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Monday evening, has been blamed on individuals from a football hooligan firm connected with Burnley.
They included a supporter associated with former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. The supporter claimed responsibility online before deleting his social media presence.
Another figure, who has convictions for football-related violence, was linked to a WhatsApp group where money was said to have been sought to pay for the plane.
The company which provided the plane is Air Ads, an aerial advertising and banner towing company based in the north of England which uses a Cessna. The aircraft circled over Manchester City’s ground at about 8pm before landing back at Blackpool airport at 8.30pm, according to flight tracking technology.
It then took off again at 8.45am on Tuesday morning and was last detected near Newport in South Wales.
Blackpool airport said it would stop operating banner flights following an emergency review.
Stephen Smith, manager of Blackpool airport, said: “Blackpool airport and Blackpool council are outraged by this incident. We stand against racism of any kind and absolutely do not condone the activity. The message was offensive and the action reprehensible.”
Smith said banners are not checked before take-off and that the content is at the operator’s discretion.
He added: “Blackpool airport will suspend all banner-towing operations at the airport with immediate effect and we would suggest that other airports should also consider this approach in light of what has happened at Blackpool.”
Iffy Onuora, the equalities officer for the Professional Footballers Association, said on Tuesday that he hoped the widespread condemnation of the banner will act as a catalyst for further conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The words themselves aren’t offensive, it’s just the context. It’s the rejection of the conversation we’re having at the moment. That’s what it represents,” Onoura told the BBC.
“I guess people have the right to do it. For me it’s just proof again that these things can lead to positive things because all that’s been said in the 12 hours since the game finished has been, again, a catalyst, another conversation to have.”
Nick Lowles, the chief executive officer of the campaign organisation Hope not Hate, said that the stunt was carried out by prominent members of the Burnley’s so-called “Suicide Squad”, a hooligan gang whose members include supporters of the club.
Burnley’s captain, Ben Mee, said he felt ashamed and embarrassed of supporters who organised a banner displaying the words while the club have vowed to issue lifetime bans to those responsible for the offensive stunt.
Burnley swiftly issued a statement that apologised “unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter”.
After the game, which ended in a 5-0 victory for Manchester City, Mee delivered his own powerful condemnation. In an interview with Sky the defender said: “I’m ashamed and embarrassed that a small number of our fans have decided to put that around the stadium. There are a group of lads that are in there embarrassed to see that. It’s missed the whole point of what we’re trying to achieve and these people need to come into the 21st century and educate themselves as a lot of us do.
“It doesn’t represent what we’re about, what the club is about, what the players are about and what the majority of the fans are about. It’s a small minority of people and I’m really upset that it happened. As we were coming out we heard some whispers it was going to happen. The club tried to stop it.”
A statement was due to be issued by Lancashire police on Tuesday. However, a Twitter account for a football unit of the force which covers Burnley said it was aware of the incident and would be investigating it.