Stephen Kenny condemns fans who booed Ireland players for taking the knee
‘It’s an important stance and I commend them for taking that stance’
The Irish players showed their support for football’s anti-racism campaign ahead of kick-off at a packed Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest on Tuesday evening, but the gesture was not well received by many among the crowd.
Kenny admitted the jeers did not augur well for Hungary ahead of their Euro 2020 finals campaign, which kicks off against Portugal in Budapest next Tuesday.
Speaking after his side’s 0-0 friendly draw, he said: “I think it was the right decision. I approached [the Football Association of Ireland’s international operations manager] Barry Gleeson and said it was something we wanted to do, take the knee, and I think it’s a very important message.
“The fact it was booed is incomprehensible, really, and it must be damaging for Hungary, with the Euros in Hungary. It’s disappointing and it doesn’t reflect well on Hungary, really, on Hungarian support. It doesn’t reflect well.
“Our players wanted to do it. It’s important. It’s an important stance and I commend them for taking that stance.”
Norwich frontman Idah also expressed his disappointment at the boos.
He said: “Obviously, it’s disappointing to see the fans and the whole stadium booing us taking the knee.
“It’s for a good cause, trying to stop racism. It’s a sign to kick racism out of society and the reaction was very disappointing to be honest. We weren’t expecting that.”
The incident in Hungary came after some England fans booed their own team as they took a knee ahead of their warm-up games against Austria and Romania.
If there was disappointment within the Ireland camp at what transpired in Hungary, they did not let it affect them with young black players Gavin Bazunu and Idah and substitute Chiedozie Ogbene, who became the first African-born player to represent the Republic, receiving particular praise from Kenny.
The manager said: “They are well capable of speaking for themselves – they’re educated individuals, they’re very well capable of speaking for themselves.
“But they’re a credit to Ireland, to the Irish football team. They’re going to be a big part of the Irish football team and we’re very proud they’re part of our team.”
Nineteen-year-old goalkeeper Bazunu and half-time replacement Caoimhín Kelleher, 22, both made significant contributions, denying striker Adam Szalai three times between them before the Liverpool stopper kept out Attila Szalai’s late effort to ensure they left with something to show for their efforts.
Indeed, they might have condemned Marco Rossi’s men to a first defeat in 11 games had John Egan’s early header not come back off the crossbar.
Kenny said: “It was a tough game. We knew that Hungary had won their Nations League group, we were aware they had qualified for the Euros, beating Iceland.
“This was a big game for them, going to the Euros, ground packed, so it was always going to be a difficult game. Our players were excellent overall. Their commitment and sense of team was very evident.”