Burnley captain Mee on leadership, campaigning and 10 years at Turf Moor

“Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and… Ben Mee.”

When the Burnley captain hears his own name alongside two of England’s biggest stars, he laughs self-deprecatingly.

But in an era of high-profile footballers campaigning for social change and racial equality, Mee’s words and actions on many off-the-field issues mean he belongs in the conversation.

As the former Manchester City graduate prepares to mark 10 years at Turf Moor, he talks to BBC Sport about speaking up about social issues, how football has changed, captain’s meetings, and Burnley’s fight to beat the drop.

‘I didn’t realise the impact my voice would have’

The Clarets captain’s rise to being one of the leading role models in the Premier League started when a post-match interview went viral.

A banner against the taking of the knee was flown over Burnley’s match with Manchester City at the Etihad in 2020.

The 32-year-old criticised those responsible for the banner, saying he was “ashamed and embarrassed” and those involved had “missed the whole point of what we’re trying to achieve”. This led to widespread praise from people in and out of football, Mee describing this as “humbling”.

Since then, the centre-back has spoken publicly about the premature birth of his daughter, homelessness and launched a Twitter account to “use his voice to help others by sharing some personal experiences”.

“My main focus is football, but I want to use my voice to help others to speak about issues and to raise awareness for things that are going on in everyday life and outside of football,” Mee says.

“I’ve been through a lot for the last couple of years with my family. I’ve got lots of perspective on life and growing up and maturing. I think this is probably one of the reasons why I’ve decided to go on social media and test the waters there.

“Young kids look up to us massively and I think I got that sense when I spoke out initially.

“I didn’t realise the impact it could have, all of a sudden you do realise it and hopefully we can do it more and more.”

Social media and meetings with Premier League captains

During the Covid-19 pandemic the role of a Premier League captain has evolved to include group discussions involving all 20 club captains on everything from taking the knee, NHS donations, covid protocols and the decision to continuing playing football throughout the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of zoom meetings and phone calls and messages back and forward,” Mee says. “I’ve found it interesting learning about all areas on and off the pitch.

“A lot of the top teams are quite vocal in those meetings, and you have to sort of support the lads and try to put your point across as well at the same time.

“You listen, you try and take things on board and I think we’re all pretty much on the same page.”

Mee only joined Twitter in November 2021 and did so partly to raise awareness of his campaigning having been initially reluctant for fear of making a slip-up on social media.

“I was always of focused on my football,” he says. “I didn’t want to put things on social media that didn’t really make much sense.

“I won’t put a picture on me or a video of me dancing or anything, I’m not that kind of character.

“I want to put things out there on social media that you know are real that are more about me and my personality, so I think that’s why I’ve waited a little bit of time to do that.

Burnley captain Ben Mee
All 20 Premier League captains have come together to make some high profile decisions during the pandemic, including setting up #PlayersTogether to donate money to NHS workers

A decade at Burnley and advice to young players

Mee, who officially celebrates 10 years as a permanent Burnley player on 17 January after an initial loan spell, has seen the impact social media can have on a young player’s progression.

“All of a sudden your eye gets taken and your concentration wains a little bit and that chance that you might have had has passed” he says.

“There’s been a big sort of culture change I think within those 10 years. There’s a lot of attention on young players now, a lot of expectation on players.

“I think social media is a big one – I think there’s a lot of outside noise from other people as well, the Premier League is such a big place to be.

“I think it takes a strong character for a young lad to block out all that and focus on football, and maybe that wasn’t as much of an issue when I was younger.”

This season, Sean Dyche’s Burnley are struggling in the Premier League and find themselves in the relegation zone.

One of their main sources of goals, Chris Wood, has joined relegation rivals Newcastle, and forward Maxwell Cornet is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast.

“It’s been frustrating for our group,” says Mee. “We feel like we’ve not been performing too badly, so that’s even more frustrating because we’re not picking up the points.

“We’re still confident, we still feel like we were in touch. I think we’ve got a really strong jaw, good character within the group I think that’s one of the reasons why people don’t expect us to get relegated.

“We know we need to get ourselves out of this situation that we’re in and you know it’s going to be tough.”

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