Burnley & The Ugliness

by | Jun 23, 2020

There had been mutterings on Burnley forums yesterday afternoon that a plane was due to fly over The Etihad Stadium last night, but the subject of the message that was due to be attached to the plane was, at the time, unknown. At 8.00 last night, though,there it was. As the players of Manchester City and Burnley took their stand before last night’s Premier League match, a small plane, reported to have taken off a little earlier that evening from Blackpool airport, flew over the stadium with a banner trailing after it saying, “White Lives Matter Burnley” and the reputation of the football club, its supporters and the town itself was trashed.

So, where on earth do we begin with this? Well, firstly, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. 99.999% of Burnley supporters were not involved in this, so to castigate the entire fan base over this would be misguided, to say the least. The responsibility for what happened last night does not fall upon the entirety of the club’s support. Whether they like it or not, though, they have as a collective been shunted into the spotlight over this, and how they react to it does matter. That sucks, but it’s a subject that they’d be better off raising with those who got the banner arranged than those appalled by it all.

This is something that the racists have primarily done to Burnley, both the football club and to the town itself. The rest of us, no matter how angered we might be by it, will likely continue about our lives and forget about it all in a few hours, days or weeks,, but no-one should be in any doubt that this whole debacle will leave a stain on the reputation of both the town and the football club. It is what it is. The suffering that towns such as Burnley have been going through in recent years is well-documented. Identifying your home town as racist (and again, whether this is true or fair, isn’t really relevant this morning) doesn’t sound like the wisest thing to do from a purely pragmatic point of view.

Those who say “All Lives Matter” (or variants thereupon, such as last night’s) are making it about them at a point when others are trying to make a serious point about structural racism within society. It feels at the moment as though we are reaching something of a critical mass over race, and “All Lives Matter” advocates need to start understanding what we are hearing when they make this declaration. To clarify, in the words of Kick It Out’s Sanjay Bhandari last night: “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.”

Further questions are raised by the whole incident, of course, not least of which is, what sort of company would allow something like this to be attached to the back of one of their aircraft in the first place? Establishing this isn’t difficult. Airplanes are easy to track, and the plane involved was fairly swiftly identified as a Cessna 182 Skylane based at Blackpool Airport, with the tail code G-ENEA. The aircraft is owned by a company called Air Ads Ltd., which is registered to an address in Stockport. Their Twitter account is covered with retweets and likes of various far-right tropes, so the likelihood is that its owner will have few regrets about his decision to run this particular flight.

The pilot was one Alan Elliott, and Elliott already has a track record with regard to flying planes over football grounds. In 2017 he was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £8,500 in legal costs for breaching civil aviation law by flying his plane just 400 feet over Goodison Park during a match between Everton and Leicester City in December 2015. Elliott had claimed that he was forced below the 1000ft legal limit over built-up areas by the sudden onset of bad weather – an allowable exception to the 1000ft limit – only to be contradicted by his own co-pilot and defence witness Andrew Nicholls, who told the court that severe weather had not set in until the aircraft had almost completed its first circuit of the stadium. District judge Wendy Lloyd found Elliott guilty, stating that she was sure that Elliott had made a “reckless decision” to fly so close to the stadium for “commercial purposes.”

As for the person who hired the plane in the first place, well, rumours have been doing the round including screen shots of WhatsApp conversations in which the bank account details for donations to make payment to him – it would be interesting to see what sort of activity there is regarding that bank account this morning – were included, but this remains unconfirmed, for now. What we know for certain is that every racist in Britain (and quite a few beyond) with a Twitter account was out to drag their knuckles across our timelines last night. These people aren’t football’s problem.

None of this is to say that everybody touched by this story is a disgrace, of course. Burnley Football Club itself was admirably quick and decisive in issuing a statement on the matter last night, and the club’s statement pulled no punches in apologising for what had happened. The rumour is that the individual soliciting donations for the flight is already banned for life from Turf Moor, so the club pretty much has its hands tied, in that respect. In addition to this, the post-match interview with the club’s captain Ben Mee demonstrated the strength of feeling on the part of the players over all of this. Mee’s response demonstrated that he is a credit to his club, insisting on talking about what had happened when asked about the game itself by the interviewer.

It is, however, also worth considering that, while the Premier League (and other bodies with a voice that they could use) have been very quick to clamber aboard this particular bandwagon, we have seen little to no explanation from them as to what they mean when they say that Black Lives Matter. This is problematic, because while there are those criticising the BLM movement knowing fully well what they’re saying, there are also likely people leaping in to defend the idea that “white lives matter as well” from a position of relative ignorance of the important distinctions that go unspoken between those three words.

It should go without saying that no-one is saying that white lives don’t matter, or that all lives don’t matter as well. It goes without saying to some that saying that black lives matter is about dismantling structural prejudices – racism within the police, disparities in quality of life, a basic fundamental inequality that permeates through everything – that fly over the heads of many white people. In some respects, saying that black lives matter is saying that all lives matter.

But, while it is absolutely not incumbent on anybody who supports the movement to do other people’s research for them in terms of educating people on this, the idea of education is at the heart of BLM, and organisations with the resources to do so (such as, for example, the Premier League) could certainly do with explaining a little better why all of their players have these words on the back of their shirts in the first place. It’s not an easy subject to broach. Colonial Britain has an abhorrent side to it, and it’s shameful in some respects to reflect upon. If we understand it better, though, we could reach the point at which it doesn’t even need to be said that any lives matter, because it’s just taken as a given. The events of last night seem to indicate that this remains still quite some way away.