“White Lives Matter Burnley” read a banner being pulled by the small plane that circled the ground for several minutes on a clear Monday evening in the east of Manchester.
As the players of Manchester City and Burnley took a knee inside an empty Etihad Stadium in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the sound of an aircraft could be heard overhead.
It had a very different message.
“White lives matter Burnley”, read a racist banner being pulled by the small plane that circled the ground for several minutes on a clear Monday evening in the east of Manchester.
Ben Mee, the captain of Burnley, couldn’t help but notice. He and his teammates had heard rumors just before they walked out for the match that such a stunt had been planned.
The club had even tried to prevent the plane from taking off.
“I’m ashamed and embarrassed,” said Mee, who added that the incident “definitely had a massive impact on us” as the Burnley went on to a 5-0 defeat.
Condemnation was quick to arrive, firstly on social media and then from Burnley in a statement issued at halftime in which the club strongly condemned what it deemed an “offensive banner.”
“This, in no way, represents what Burnley Football Club stands for,” the statement read, “and we will work fully with the authorities to identify those responsible and issue lifetime bans.”
“We apologise unreservedly,” Burnley said, “to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter.”
When the Premier League season resumed last week, “Black Lives Matter” replaced player names on the backs of shirts for the first 12 matches in support of a movement that has gained popularity worldwide since the killing of George Floyd in the United States last month.
Players, coaches and match officials have taken a knee for around 10 seconds before kickoff in the dozen matches.
“A group of lads in there are embarrassed to see that,” Mee said his squad.
“It’s not what we are about at all, and it’s missed the point of the whole thing, what we’re trying to achieve, to do.
“These people need to come into the 21st century and educate themselves.”
It was not immediately clear who arranged the aircraft and banner.
We are aware of the incident that occurred tonight before the game! Ourselves and @BurnleyOfficial are aware of it and will be fully investigating!! Thank you for all the tweets and reports!! #UTC #twitterclarets— Burnley FC Police (@BurnleyFCPolice) June 22, 2020