Sunderland supporters’ joke ‘was not intended to disrupt fans’ tribute says plane boss

A light aircraft pulling a banner as it flies over the ground with a message regarding Newcastle United's recent record in matches against Sunderland during the Barclays Premier League match at St James' Park, Newcastle.
A light aircraft pulling a banner as it flies over the ground with a message regarding Newcastle United's recent record in matches against Sunderland during the Barclays Premier League match at St James' Park, Newcastle.
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THE boss of a plane hired to taunt Newcastle supporters has denied any intention to disrupt the tribute to fans Liam Sweeney and John Alder.

The plane, operated by Blackpool-based air-ads.com, towed a banner over St James’s Park on Sunday, bearing the message ‘5 in a row 5underland’ to mark the Black Cats’ recent record in derby wins over the Magpies.

But the fly-past took place 17 minutes into the game, as Newcastle supporters were paying tribute to Liam and John, who died in the MH17 air disaster while on their way to watch the team’s pre-season tour.

Air-ads boss Alan Elliott said the firm has been bombarded with abuse on-line from angry fans – but denied there had been any intention to offend.

The plan had originally been to fly over the stadium almost quarter of a hour later.

“The timing was unfortunate, but it was certainly not intentional,” he said.

“Originally, we had planned to route through Sunderland before we arrived at St James’s Park, but there was some low cloud in the area, so the pilot decided to go straight to St James’s and then head back over Sunderland.

“The original idea was to fly from Peterlee to the coast, go up the coast, do two or three circles of Sunderland and then on to St James’s Park, but because of the weather on the day, we had to reverse that.

“We were intending to get there about 4.30pm, which would have been well after the tribute.”

The company had not been set any specific time to get to the ground and had not been informed of the 17th minute tribute – but that lack of information was not limited to Sunderland fans.

“About two weeks before, some Newcastle fans contacted us to find out about flying a banner protesting about the owner,” said Alan.

“They did not come up with the money, which left us free on the day to do the fly-past we did.

“But when the Newcastle fans contacted us, there was no mention of ‘it can’t be at this time because of the tribute.’

“I have had e-mails and Twitter messages, we have been called all sorts – but this is the sort of thing we do.

“It is just football banter – we have flown banners at Derby and Nottingham Forest, Blackpool and Preston, Manchester United and Liverpool.

“Nobody asked us to disrupt the tribute, but if they had we would not have done it.”