Air banners have been an attractive part of football fan culture for many years now, which have been used to either express joy or as a sign of protest. In 2007, Jerzy Dudek thanked Liverpool fans for the support following his move to Real Madrid by flying a banner over the red side of Merseyside with the message “Jerzy Dudek Thanks LFC Family 4 Support.” On the other hand, Manchester United fans protested against the appointment of David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor with a banner reading “Wrong One – Moyes Out” over Old Trafford, before a game against Aston Villa in 2014.
The latest deployment of this feature came during the crunch Premier League encounter between Man City and Liverpool on Sunday. While this particular one was in protest of an issue, it proved to be extremely controversial for its explicit racist content.
During the top of the table clash at the Etihad Stadium, a plane flew over the ground with the message, “BRITISH TO BE MINORITY BY 2066.” The Brexit-themed message is a clear attack on immigrants and expatriates residing in the UK which was condemned by football fans.
This was not the first time that a controversial and offensive air banner was flown over the Man City stadium. In a similar incident, a plane with the message “White Lives Matter” was spotted over the Etihad ground during City’s game against Burnley in 2020, just minutes after both sets of players had taken the knee to condemn racism in football. Both City and Burnley condemned the release of the banner as did fans and players such as Raheem Sterling who sent out strong words against those behind the initiative.
Similarly, fans have been quick to shoot down Sunday’s racist message being aired, especially since it has come during a time when the footballing community has been fighting against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
One supporter on Twitter called for immediate action: “the police should investigate this, find both the pilot, the airfield and who paid for this, and prosecute them all.” While another fan questioned the lack of general knowledge or thought that has gone into the banner and called for a moment of introspection to understand what exactly it means to be British: “How can anyone state exactly what “British” is anyway?? We as a nation are a bunch of mongrels from literally all over the planet and have been for 1000s of years. I’d suggest a better use of their money and righteous indignation might be some history lessons.”
While protest banners such as those aired by United fans in 2014 are more than welcome being healthy forms of criticism, such outright racist banners have no place in football as demonstrated by football fans.