Fans and players watched in horror on Monday night as a White Lives Matter was flown over the Eithiad Stadium before Manchester City’s clash with Burnley.
It is not the first time a section Burnley’s fans have attracted controversy as the notorious ‘Suicide Squad’ have been responsible for violent acts against rival supporters since the 1980s.
The plane carrying the offensive banner was flown over the ground just minutes after players from both teams had taken a knee to show their support to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the early moments of the Clarets’ first game since the Premier League restart, a plane flew overhead carrying a message which read, ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’.
Burnley fan Jake Hepple has claimed responsibility for the stunt and has so far refused to apologise – although he says 59 other people were also involved.
While there is no suggestion Hepple is a member of the notorious ‘Suicide Squad’, the banner is a further controversial moment for certain sections of Burnley fans.
Hepple wrote on Facebook: “I’d like to take this time to apologise .. TO ABSOLUTELY F ** NOBODY!
“It’s now apparently racist to say white lives matter.”
His Facebook account, which also featured an archive selfie with English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, has since disappeared.
The 24-year-old has insisted he is not racist.
He told the Daily Mail: “I know people are trying to make out to be one but I’m not.
“I’ve got lots of Black and Asian friends and this banner was actually inspired by the Black Lives Movement.
“We were not trying to offend the movement or black people. I believe that it’s also important to acknowledge that white lives matter too. That’s all we were trying to say.”
It has also been claimed Mark Hamer, who has previously been jailed after being involved in a violent clash with rival Blackburn fans along with other members of Burnley’s notorious ‘Suicide Squad’, was among those who organised the banner.
His dad, George, claims his son’s behaviour has left his wife unable to go to work due to the backlash.
The club, players and Burnley boss Sean Dyche have all condemned the banner.
Dyche said: “I didn’t realise what had gone at the beginning.
“But it was when I got in the dressing room afterwards that the lads mentioned it and were on their phones with what had gone on.
“I heard a noise buzzing around but didn’t know what it was about.
“As a club we can only apologise. I don’t know what we could have done about it, I have only just learned about it, but obviously it was unacceptable.”
Clarets skipper Ben Mee added: “We as a group of players condemn it, we’re ashamed, we’re embarrassed.”
The club statement, released at half-time of the Monday night fixture, made it clear the perpetrators were not welcome at Turf Moor and would be banned for life if identified.
It said: “We wish to make it clear that those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor.
“This, in no way, represents what Burnley Football Club stands for and we will work fully with the authorities to identify those responsible and issue lifetime bans.”
While police have said the incident “caused offence to many people in Lancashire and beyond” they added “no criminal offences that have been disclosed at this time”.
Although officers have vowed to continue working with the football club and local community.
Burnley has issued bans to many violent supporters who affiliate themselves with the notorious group the ‘Suicide Squad’.
Hooligans involved gave themselves the name after their acts of violence at away games could be described as suicidal.
Burnley’s ‘Suicide Squad’ rose to prominence in the 1980s and those associated with its violent acts have a string of convictions for violence.
Nine years ago 12 members of the ‘Suicide Squad’ were jailed for their part in a violent clash with then Premier League rivals, Blackburn.
They congregated at The Station pub in Blackburn and even experienced police trying to keep the peace were horrified.
Officers described the violence as “like something out of Braveheart” with fans “roaring, screaming and grunting” as they launched their attack on Blackburn supporters.
Sentencing the ring leaders, Andrew Porter, Daniel Tempest, Paul Hartley and Mark Hamer, Judge Graham Knowles QC claimed they “got status and pleasure from it”.
He added: “It was the closest of close run things that the police didn’t find themselves sandwiched between two groups of drunken, violent and hostile men intent on confrontation.”
Porter was handed the longest sentence of five years and banned from football grounds for 10 years.
However, he didn’t manage to make it to the clash as his taxi got lost.
Since his release from prison, Porter has written a book about his experience, Suicide Squad: The Inside Story of a Football Firm.
Hartley, who was described as Porter’s right-hand man, was jailed for four years and also given a 10 year banning order.
Tempest, whose girlfriend had begged him to behave the day before the derby match was also banned for 10 years and jailed for four years and two months.
Hamer, who had 30 previous convictions at the time, was jailed for three years and eight months.
Other involved in the violent clash were given custodial sentences and banning orders.
Superintendent Chris Bithell, who was the match commander on the day, revealed there had been 400 officers on duty.
He said: “If the police weren’t there, someone would have been seriously hurt. They are just thugs and criminals, it’s people like that who spoil football.”
Three years later 20 hooligans from the same firm were jailed after a mass brawl at a wake, which had been held to mark a man’s dead son’s birthday.
A gang of around 30 members of the ‘Suicide Squad’ crashed Burnley Miners’ Club filled with Sheffield Wednesday fans.
They threw furniture and glasses and a disabled man was hurt while an 11-year-old boy suffered a head wound.
The brawl happened after the two teams had played at Turf Moor – a game which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Bar staff, families and pensioners were trapped in the bar as the thugs shouted ‘Su, Su, Su’.
The year after the attack, 19 men and a 17-year-old were jailed for between five years and 22 months after they were convicted of violent disorder.
They were all also banned from all football grounds for up to 10 years.
Following their convictions, Chris Bithell of Lancashire Police, said: “The behaviour of all those involved in the disorder was disgraceful and completely unacceptable.
“While the vast majority of those who attended the fixture behaved responsibly, it is entirely regrettable that a small number of people chose to act in such a mindless fashion after the match.
“Throughout our investigation we have worked closely with the public and Burnley FC in order to identify those involved and I would like to thank them for their support and assistance.
“The sentences serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they can engage in violent disorder at football fixtures and get away with it.”
The ‘Suicide Squad’ has also spawned an even more extreme group of hooligans – the Burnley Youth.
They not only take on rival fans but also police and in 2002 one member killed a rival Nottingham Forest fan.
Andrew McNee was just 19 when he attacked and killed Nathan Shaw. The apprentice plumber died after McNee smashed a pint glass into the back of his head.
He was jailed for seven years for manslaughter and banned from football stadiums for 10 years.
Just a month after his release from prison, McNee was caught close to Turf Moor during Burnley’s match against Bolton – their first home game – and sent back to prison.