Chieo and Marv take part in No Room for Racism workshop

Hatters duo Chiedozie Ogbene and Marvelous Nakamba visited Stopsley Community Primary School on Thursday afternoon to speak to pupils who had been taking part in a No Room For Racism workshop put on by the Luton Town Community Trust.


Cheered into an assembly, they answered questions on their upbringing as young Africans growing up in Nigeria and Ireland, in Chieo’s case, and Zimbabwe in Marv’s, before listening to the kids’ brilliant anti-racism rap.

“I think at this age we can influence and help change their perspective on how they see others,” said Ogbene. “It’s very important because we know diversity teaches us and promotes tolerance and understanding between different cultures.

“We know inclusion helps eliminate depression and anxiety in young people. It’s very important to include kids, because at Luton Town we know what kind of town we are. We have a high diversity rate and to be here today, I feel like we can change their perspective.

“We are role models for them, and when we come in they can actually ask the questions that they wouldn’t be able to ask from afar. We get to share our experiences first hand and some of these things they see on TV, they can actually ask it in person and get to feel what we mean.

“We can motivate them a bit more by seeing their idols or people they look up to come into their school. I see how attentive they are when we are here.

“I cherish programmes like this. I think it’s very important we get involved so we can teach the younger generation the impact that racism and discrimination can have on our society.

“I try to live a good mannered and disciplined life, so when the younger generation see me and my career, they can be inspired and hopefully I can encourage them to chase their dream.

“Many may have doubts about themselves and when they listen to our stories, whatever doubt they have, when they look at my story and my journey, they can see it is possible for them.”

The Hatters’ dressing room is a prime example of a hugely diverse group that works alongside each other to achieve results on the pitch. There are 11 different nationalities in Rob Edwards’ current first-team squad, and Chieo was asked what it needs for such a diverse group to be successful.

“I think it takes people to be open minded,” he said. “At Luton Town we have a dressing room where people are open minded and are willing to adapt very quickly. We take the time to listen and to learn each other’s ways.

“We are not just team-mates. We are friends outside of football and that creates a better bond for the team, so I think you have to let yourself be open-minded in a diverse team, to learn each other’s ways and cultures and to understand each other.

“But most important we need to listen to each other’s stories, and by doing that you create a better bond within the team.”

Chieo explained that his own story, which involved moving to Ireland as an eight-year-old from Lagos, is “quite different”. He overcame exclusion and isolation, but admits that was from his own doing until he let himself “be open to learn other cultures”.

After overcoming that difficulty, Chieo says he learnt to listen and admits: “My perspective on these kinds of things changed and I was able to make more friends and create good relationships, and then I had a good bond with my community.”

After starring for Cork City and Limerick, he moved over the Irish Sea to Brentford in 2018, and after a loan spell at Exeter, he joined Rotherham a year later.

His performances in League One and the Championship led to international recognition in 2021, when he became the first African-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland.

After scoring his first goal later that year in a World Cup qualifying win in Azerbaijan, he has gone on to add another three goals in a total of 17 appearances for Stephen Kenny’s side.

“Getting the opportunity to play international football was a great achievement for me,” said Chieo. “I think international football is the summit where everyone wants to play and I was just privileged to be living my dream.

“Being the first African born player to play for Ireland made me proud of my younger self, of all the sacrifices and the efforts I put in to get to that stage.

“Ireland’s diversity rate is slowly and steadily increasing, and I hope I can be one of those examples that kids can look up to and believe that there is a better future when they see someone like me, being an African born player, with this title. I cherish it so much so I can give them hope that a better future is to come.”

Chieo’s final message is one that not only the youngsters of Stopsley Primary should listen to, but one for the wider world to heed.

“Racism and discrimination has a negative impact in our society. We have to learn to love and respect others the same way we want others to love and respect us. If there is one message I would leave, it’s that love is the cure of hate in our society.”

Luton Town Football Club’s commitment is to promote inclusion and to confront and eliminate discrimination, whether by reason of age, disability, gender reassignment, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief. People can be assured of an environment in which their rights, dignity and individual worth are respected, and in particular that they are able to work and watch football in an environment without the threat of intimidation, victimisation, harassment, bullying and abuse.

Should you wish to report a specific incident, please contact your nearest steward, email [email protected] or download Kick It Out’s free confidential reporting app on the App Store or Google Play.

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