Burnley are “ashamed and embarrassed” by a banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ that was towed by an aeroplane over Etihad Stadium during Monday’s match against Manchester City.
The aircraft circled over the stadium just after kick-off in City’s 5-0 win.
Burnley and City players and staff had taken a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement moments earlier.
“Fans like that don’t deserve to be around football,” Clarets skipper Ben Mee told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Defender Mee added: “We’re ashamed, we’re embarrassed.
“It’s a minority of our supporters – I know I speak for a massive part of our support who distance ourselves from anything like that.
“It definitely had a massive impact on us to see that in the sky.
“We are embarrassed that our name was in it, that they tried to attach it to our club – it doesn’t belong anywhere near our club.”
In a statement, Burnley said that the banner “in no way represents” what the club stands for and that they will “work fully with the authorities to identify those responsible and take appropriate action”.
“Burnley strongly condemns the actions of those responsible for the aircraft and offensive banner,” the statement added.
“We wish to make it clear that those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor.
“We apologise unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter.
“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.
“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.”
Both Burnley and City were wearing shirts with the players’ names replaced with ‘Black Lives Matter’.
It is understood that the stunt was carried out by Air Ads, which operates out of Blackpool Airport and runs a one-stop shop where they make the banners and fly them. They have flown over football stadiums in the past, including a ‘Moyes Out’ one at Old Trafford.
When BBC Sport contacted the company, a man who answered refused to give his name but said he was packing away the banner.
He said as long as banners were legal and did not use coarse language, the company did not ‘take sides’ and had previously done a Black Lives Matter banner. He claimed police had been informed of the banner in advance.
Sanjay Bhandari, chair of Kick It Out, English football’s anti-racism charity: “The point of Black Lives Matter is not to diminish the importance of other people’s lives. It is to highlight that black people are being denied certain human rights simply by virtue of the colour of their skin.
“It is about equality. We shall continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for greater equality for all in football.”
PFA equalities director Iffy Onuora: “You get that moment of deflation but then there’s the positive reaction since. I thought Ben Mee was absolutely fantastic.
“You feel inspired again. These are uncomfortable conversations but in order to progress, you have to have them.
“In itself, the words themselves aren’t offensive, it’s the context. It’s the rejection of conversations we are having at the moment and that’s what it represents.”
Piara Powar, executive director of anti-discrimination body Fare: “Set against the BLM message of equal rights, ‘White Lives Matter’ can only be motivated by racism and a denial of equal rights. It shows exactly why the fight for equality is so important and why the majority of people have supported it.
“The movement, the issues that are being discussed and the change that will arise is unstoppable. History will judge that this was a moment that led to change.”
Since the Premier League resumed on 17 June after a 100-day hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, players and officials have been showing their support for the movement for racial equality following the death of George Floyd in the United States last month.
Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died as a white police officer held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. His death sparked protests around the world.
Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards said seeing the banner was “disheartening”.
“After how far we’ve come in these last couple of weeks, it really does hurt me,” he told Sky Sports.
“I agree everyone should have free speech but when it looked like everything was on the up there’s a small fraction who want to ruin it.”
City and England forward Raheem Sterling said it was a “massive step” that players took a knee in support of Black Lives Matter on the opening night of the top-flight’s return.
Asked about the banner, City boss Pep Guardiola said society could not overturn 400 years of racial injustice in one week but added “we are going to change the situation”.
“We need time, the racism is still there. We have to fight every day and condemn the bad things,” he said.