Stephen Kenny: ‘The fact that it was booed is incomprehensible really’

Ireland manager says he insisted that team wanted to take a knee in Budapest

The Irish football team have been booed by fans in Budapest after the team took a knee to protest racism ahead of kickoff in their friendly match against Hungary. Video: RTÉ

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Chiedozie Ogbene managed to pluck some humour from a night of stunning and collective racism in Budapest.

“I was hoping to come on just to score in front of their fans,” said Ogbene, the first Republic of Ireland player to be born in Nigeria. “Maybe it was the best thing it didn’t happen as I might have let my emotions get the better of me with any sort of celebration I would have done.”

The former Nemo Rangers Gaelic footballer was able to laugh off the pre-match booing, when Irish players took a knee to protest against racism, but his manager Stephen Kenny severely criticised the Hungarian supporters ferocious reaction after this 0-0 draw.

“I think it was the right decision,” said Kenny. “I was approached to see if we wanted to take the knee. In fact, I approached Barry Gleeson [FAI international operations director] and insisted that we wanted to take the knee.

“I think it is a very very important message.

“The fact that it was booed is incomprehensible really. It must be damaging for Hungary with the Euros.”

In 2019 Uefa slapped Bulgaria with two matches behind closed doors following racist abuse by their supporters directed towards black English players in Sofia.

Portugal open Group F against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday with the multi-cultural world champions France playing them at the Puskas Arena on June 19th.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny gestures during the international friendly match against Hungary at Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest. Photograph: Trenka Atilla/PA Wire
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny gestures during the international friendly match against Hungary at Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest. Photograph: Trenka Atilla/PA Wire

“It does not reflect well on Hungary really or Hungarian support,” Kenny continued, as he sat beside his striker Adam Idah, who was born in Cork to a Nigerian father and Irish mother. “Our players wanted to do it. It is important stance. I commend them for taking that stance.”

Idah, who appeared recently on Claire Byrne Live to talk about being black and growing up in Ireland, stated: “Obviously it is disappointing to see the fans in the whole stadium booing us taking the knee. This sport is trying to stop racism and it is a sign to kick racism out of society.

“Just the reaction was very disappointing to us. We did not expect that. Obviously, we wanted to take the knee, it was for a good cause.”

Ogebene, who was born in Lagos but moved to Cork when he was seven years old, made his debut off the bench while Gavin Bazunu, born in Dublin to a Nigerian dad and Irish mother, made a fantastic early save from a close range Ádám Szalai header.

Kenny was asked how disheartening it must be for the four players of Nigerian descent in the Ireland squad to be subjected to such overt racism.

“Three of our young black players are teenagers,” said Kenny as the fire alarm started blaring in the bowels of the Szusza Ferenc stadium. “Gavin was terrific in goal, Chiedozie was excellent when he came on, Adam was outstanding in the second half, he caused havoc, and it was unfortunate he couldn’t score.

“They are well capable of speaking for themselves. They are educated individuals. They are a credit to Ireland and they are going to be a big part of the future of the Irish football team and we are very proud that they are a part of that team.”

Ireland’s Chiedozie Ogbene is challenged by András Schäfer and János Hahn of Hungary during the friendly match at the Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest. Photograph: Ferenc Izsa/Inpho
Ireland’s Chiedozie Ogbene is challenged by András Schäfer and János Hahn of Hungary during the friendly match at the Szusza Ferenc Stadium in Budapest. Photograph: Ferenc Izsa/Inpho

Ogbene continued: “We all go through different stories and different histories in our lives. This is something black people have been fighting for many years. Discrimination and racism, there is no place for it in any sport or in any place.

“I was quite disappointed but we stayed strong. I am so happy that we, as a team took the knee, to show solidarity between us all.”

As the crowd were yelling their disgust at the Irish players, Hungarian captain Ádám Szalai appeared to be showing solidarity with his opponents by pointing to the “respect” badge on his jersey. No Hungarian players appeared to kneel.

“I try not to worry about it,” Ogbene responded to the suggestion that racism will dominate the Euros now that crowds are returning to stadiums. “I just focus on ourselves – I feel that the group we have are very diverse and everyone is together.

“We hope that Uefa will take a stricter actions. You know, find a solution. It is a difficult task because this has been going on for many years. We won’t find a solution overnight.

“It was truly a blessing,” Ogbene said about being the first African-born man to play for Ireland. “Most importantly being from the League of Ireland, coming from that tough structure of football.

“If you believe, and never give up, look what can happen. Being the first African-born is a huge honour and I want to inspire others to follow their dreams.”

Regarding the game itself, a forgettable if compelling scoreless draw, and the summer window for an under pressure Kenny, being unbeaten in three matches is sounder footing than being winless in 11 as the manager plots the downfall of Portugal on September 1st.

“The performance wasn’t perfect,” Kenny concluded, “but the togetherness and sense of team was very impressive.”

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