Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
Burnley chairman Mike Garlick has told ESPN that the club will “root out the racists” who organised the flying of a plane with a “White Lives Matter — Burnley” banner over the Etihad Stadium prior to Monday’s Premier League clash with Manchester City.
The stunt, which coincided with both sets of players taking a knee in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement, has prompted widespread condemnation, with Burnley captain Ben Mee saying after the game that he and his teammates were “embarrassed and ashamed” by the incident.
Lancashire Police have confirmed they are investigating the matter and Garlick has made it clear that, if those involved are identified as Burnley supporters, they will be dealt with severely.
“We will root out these racists and I am sure they will be dealt with in due course,” Garlick told ESPN in a telephone interview. “We will do whatever we can to make sure justice is done against these people.
“Let’s be clear. The plane didn’t fly in our name. It has absolutely nothing to do with Burnley Football Club and we absolutely deplore it.
“But we have to talk about it. We cannot and will not sweep it under the carpet.
“I was at the game and I have been chairman / co-chairman for eight years. I have always been proud to be in that position, but I can tell you that I wasn’t proud to be Burnley chairman last night.
“It was for all the events that happened off the pitch, not what happened on the pitch. The game became irrelevant after the plane flew over.
“But I thought Ben Mee, our captain, spoke exceptionally well in really difficult circumstances. I am proud that he is captain of our football club and I have told him that.
Burnley, a mill town located 40 miles from Manchester, has suffered a troubled history in recent times with race riots in the summer of 2001 and as many eight councillors from the Far Right British National Party elected onto the local council between 2003 and 2011.
The football club has attempted to heal divisions, however, with its “One Club For All” community initiative, which includes an Inclusion Advisory Group that meets every three months.
Club figures show that 19% of participants in Burnley’s community programmes are from the town’s Asian population, while the Clarets Welcome programme provides weekly football sessions for 20 Syrian refugee families who have settled in the town.
But despite the club’s efforts, Garlick admits that they must continue to fight against racism and intolerance.
“Racism exists in football, we are all aware of that, especially on the terraces,” Garlick said. “Let’s not kid ourselves, it is there at a lot of clubs, including Burnley, sadly.
“We have to work together with the authorities and football authorities to stamp it out. It is not an easy job, but we will continue to try.
“I think black people and all minorities have had a hard time and faced prejudice and inequality since they arrived in this country in the 1950s and 1960s.
“All they want is to be treated equally and to have a chance in life, but there are clearly elements of our white population who see that as a threat to them and they behave in this appalling way.
“It is my job to do our best to deal with it and make it go away, which is not easy.
“It takes time and patience and understanding, working with the community to make these issues fully understood and deal with them.”
Burnley are due to face Watford at Turf Moor in their next Premier League game on Thursday and sources have told ESPN the players are discussing how to react to the events on Monday.
And Garlick says that the club will strive to ensure that their message is heard.
“We need to gather our thoughts, but clearly, we need to make a clear stand against this sort of behaviour,” he added. “I am sure will be doing that over the next few days to make our actions speak as loudly as our words.
“It’s a tiny minority, as any form of hooliganism or racism always has been, because the vast majority come to football in peace.
“But I want to stress that Burnley Football Club welcomes all people, from all creeds, races and religions.”