Police have launched an investigation after ejecting two Stoke City fans from the bet365 Stadium following complaints the death of Emiliano Sala had been mocked.
Two supporters were seen appearing to make airplane gestures in what is thought to be a direct reference to the striker’s tragic demise in a plane crash last year.
Footage uploaded to Twitter shows stewards and two police officers speaking to fans in the Franklyn Stand before leading two men away.
Now Staffordshire Police have confirmed they are investigating the incidents, which happened during Stoke City’s 2-0 win over Cardiff City on Saturday.
A force spokesman said: “Two men were ejected from the bet365 Stadium after making airplane gestures. Police are investigating.”
A Stoke City spokesman said: “It is currently the subject of a police investigation and at this stage it would unfair to comment on this incident.”
Fans today welcomed the police action.
Angela Smith, chair of the supporters’ council, said: “Anything that can be deemed to be confrontational or offensive in a public place needs to be stamped down on.
“If people are found guilty of the gestures, I’d expect any law-abiding citizen would want to see action taken.
“The vast majority of fans are respectful to others, it’s only the odd one or two who spoil it for everybody else.”
Other Stoke fans took to Twitter to condemn those responsible – and called for them to be banned for life.
Vestan Pance tweeted: “What happened was a tragedy. Please accept my and others’ heartfelt apologies. We don’t want them anywhere near our club. Disgraceful.”
Stoke Loud & Proud tweeted: “This is not a true representation of a Stoke fan. I’m glad he was removed from the ground, good luck for the rest of the season.”
And Peter Sutton wrote: “Unfortunately some fans take their brains out and leave them at the door when it comes to football. Simply unacceptable and no excuse. Lifetime bans for them hopefully.”
The incident came on the same day Staffordshire Police launched a crackdown on racism and offensive behaviour blighting football as part of the Kick It Out campaign.
Supporters are being warned they will be taken to court and handed match banning orders if they are caught chanting abuse or making gestures in the stands.
They are also being encouraged to report any incidents of hate crime or discriminatory behaviour.
Superintendent Ricky Fields, Staffordshire Police’s head of operation support, said: “We understand the overwhelming majority of fans will behave as they should but we are aware a small minority will let themselves and their clubs down.
“We encourage all supporters to help us tackle the issue by being our eyes and ears, reporting any sign of racism or discrimination to the nearest officer or steward – we will treat any reports in the strictest confidence.
“We will seek to gather evidence to support prosecutions and any individual found to be taking part in any form of racist or discriminatory chanting can expect to be dealt with robustly – whether that be football banning orders or strong criminal convictions.”
Referring to the Kick It Out campaign Stoke City’s chief executive Tony Scholes said: “There’s simply no place for discriminatory behaviour in football and society in general and we are working closely with Staffordshire Police to ensure that there continues to be an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone who visits the bet365 Stadium.”