An England fan who posed with a flag mocking the death of Diego Maradona in Naples yesterday was given a lifetime ban by Burnley FC three years ago for flying a ‘white lives matter’ banner above the Etihad stadium.
Jake Hepple had his match ticket for last night’s game torn up by the FA after he was pictured on a train holding a St George’s Cross with the words ‘Diego’s in a box’ in the four white quadrants.
The mindless stunt provoked disgust among Neapolitans, who widely revere the Argentinian footballer for his exploits while playing for local team Napoli. He died of a heart attack in 2020.
Mr Hepple, who is in his mid-20s, is a supporter of EDL founder Tommy Robinson and regularly shares offensive material on his Facebook page, including a photo of himself giving the thumbs up next to a mugshot of killer Raoul Moat.
In a previous interview with MailOnline, he tried to excuse his use of the racist term ‘p***’ on social media by saying he sometimes gets ‘a bit drunk and coked up and uses offensive language’.
Jake Hepple was pictured with a St George’s flag that had the words ‘Diego’s in a box’ in each quadrant
In 2020, Mr Hepple chartered a plane with a banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’
Mr Hepple is pictured on the left with English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson
Mr Hepple arranged for the ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ banner to be flown over the Etihad during Burnley’s game against Manchester City’s stadium on June 22, 2020 just after players had taken the knee.
He was later dismissed from his role as a welder at Lancashire-based Paradigm Precision, with the company saying it ‘did not condone or tolerate racism in any form’.
Afterwards he told MailOnline: ‘I’m not racist. 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.’
Mr Hepple had already been warned he was facing the sack, and said in response: ‘My employer, the club and so many other people have completely overreacted to what’s happened.’
His girlfriend at the time, Megan Rambadt, also faced criticism for racist social media posts and was sacked from her job as a beautician.
Last night’s match between the Three Lions and the Azzurri, which England won 2-1, had been flagged for potential crowd trouble and was being held in the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium which is named after the footballing icon.
A group of England fans – including Hepple – posing with the flag in Naples yesterday
Mr Hepple regularly shares offensive material on his Facebook page, including a photo of himself giving the thumbs up next to a mugshot of killer Raoul Moat
Mr Hepple’s girlfriend, Megan Rambadt, also lost her job due to racist comments she had made on social media
Ms Rambadt’s tweet about Burnley being like a ‘foreign country’ that ‘needs sorting’
The previous week there were running battles after Eintracht Frankfurt’s visit in the Champions League and which also saw police cars set on fire.
While similar scenes were not seen yesterday, the sight of an England fan mocking one of Naples’ most beloved figures did not go down well with locals.
Maradona, who died three years ago, won five trophies – including two Serie A titles – with Napoli between 1984 and 1990, at which point his career was curtailed by a drug ban.
The Argentinian footballer, who won two World Cups with his country and scored the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England, is adored by fans of the Italian team, which has a statue in his honour at the ground.
Mr Hepple’s stunt sparked a strong response from the FA, with a spokesperson saying: ‘We strongly condemn the actions of the individual who travelled to Naples with a flag that had a highly offensive message on it.
‘We immediately took steps to have their tickets cancelled before the match. The matter will be reviewed further when we return to England.’
People on social media were yesterday left concerned for his safety, with many saying he could expect a violent response from Italian fans in Naples if seen carrying the flag.
A picture from Mr Hepple’s social media shows him at the back with friends at the pub holding up England flags
In a previous interview with MailOnline, Mr Hepple tried to excuse his use of the racist term ‘p***’ on social media by saying he sometimes gets ‘a bit drunk and coked up and uses offensive language’
A private plane crossed the sky above the stadium just moments after both Burnley and Manchester players took a knee to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement
Mr Hepple outed himself as the organiser of the 2020 white lives matter banner in a post on Facebook.
The ‘Suicide Squad’, a group of far-right Burnley fans, are believed to have crowdfunded for the flight.
Mr Hepple said 60 people contributed towards the banner and the hire of the plane, which cost £600 in total.
He said organisers had offers of money from ‘hundreds’ of people who were willing to support the ‘white lives matter cause.’
The plane flew over the stadium just after Manchester City and Burnley FC players had taken the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mr Hepple, who lived at home with his mother Jill and stepfather Dave, claimed he only became involved after a terror attack in Reading shortly before the game.
In 2010, Mr Hepple posted this flag showing support for the far-right English Defence League
Mr Hepple, a Burnley local, refused to apologise for the white lives matter banner
Mr Hepple shared photos and a video to Facebook of the plane carrying the message ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’
He continued: ‘The idea for it came from a football pal of mine. He wanted to make the point that not just Black Lives Matter but so do white ones and all other ones.
‘I supported the idea and believe that it needed to be said. I still do. Then the attack happened in Reading and I thought I have to get more involved with the banner.
‘I was angry that white people had been killed and nobody was making a fuss about that.’
Mr Hepple’s stunt led to outrage and was widely condemned, with Burnley captain Ben Mee saying he was ‘shamed and embarrassed’.
Other Burnley fans started a Go Fund Me page raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, set up in memory of the black teenager after he was killed in a racist attack in 1993.