The banner, which read in full, “White Lives Matter Burnley,” was flown over Etihad Stadium at the start of the match.
When the EPL returned to play last week, following a three-month hiatus amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, it featured several nods to the Black Lives Matter movement. Players have had that phrase instead of their last names on the backs of their jerseys, and they have been taking a knee on the field just before the start of matches.
It was at that moment, when players from both sides were demonstrating in solidarity against racial injustice, that the banner was spotted overhead.
After the match, a 5-0 win for Man City, Burnley defender Ben Mee, one of team’s captains, said: “I’m ashamed and embarrassed that a small number of our fans have decided to put that around the stadium. They’ve completely missed the point. … It’s not what we’re about at all.”
“These people need to come into the 21st century,” Mee added, “and educate themselves.” He said his team had “heard some whispers that it was going to happen, and the club tried to stop it.”
Former Manchester City player Micah Richards, who was at the game as an analyst for Sky Sports, told the network that the banner was evidence that the racism targeted by protests in England wasn’t just “happening in America.”
The head of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, an umbrella organization that seeks to fight racism in European soccer and use the sport to help further a message of inclusion, said Monday that “the racist backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement across Europe is a trend we have seen and documented.”
“Set against the BLM message of equal rights, ‘White Lives Matter’ can only be motivated by racism and a denial of equal rights,” FARE Executive Director Piara Powar told the Guardian. “It shows exactly why the fight for equality is so important and why the majority of people have supported it.”
The banner was flown over the Man City-Burnley match one day after an airplane flew a Confederate flag over a NASCAR Cup Series race in Talladega, Ala. The gesture, meant to protest NASCAR’s decision this month to ban displays of the flag at all of its events and properties, was accompanied by a sign declaring, “Defund NASCAR.”
Later that day, NASCAR announced that a noose was discovered in the garage stall of its only black full-time Cup Series driver, Bubba Wallace. In a statement, Wallace called it a “despicable act of racism and hatred [that] leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Monday that the FBI was investigating the incident, about which the stock-car racing company had said the night before, “We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act.”
Phelps said that “unequivocally” those responsible for the noose “will be banned from the sport for life.”
“There is no room for this at all,” he asserted Monday. “We won’t tolerate it. They won’t be here.”
That stance was echoed by Burnley, which said in its statement that “those responsible are not welcome” at its stadium, Turf Moor.
“The club has a proud record of working with all genders, religions and faiths through its award-winning Community scheme, and stands against racism of any kind,” Burnley said. “We are fully behind the Premier League’s Black Lives Matter initiative and, in line with all other Premier League games undertaken since Project Restart, our players and football staff willingly took the knee at kick-off at Manchester City.
“We apologise unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter.”