Montpellier striker John Utaka flagged off a charity organisation that is dedicated to helping educate and empower less-privileged children and youth within marginalised communities on Sunday in London.
The John Utaka Foundation was launched amidst a cream of dignitaries and a team of professional colleagues in a lavish dinner held at the banquet hall of the Hilton Hotel in Paddington.
In his welcome address, Aminu Maigari, the president of Nigeria Football Federation, highlighted the former Portsmouth player’s immeasurable performance while playing for his country in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
Maigari further expressed his happiness to witness the launch of the John Utaka Foundation which is designed to tackle poverty among children through the provision of basic amenities such as water, food and medicine to the less fortunate.
Efe Sodje, ex-international emphasised that the John Utaka Foundation is set to improve the lives of the less-privileged and hinted that the Sodje Sports Foundation, a joint charity organisation by his brothers, Steve and Sam will be having a charity tour of Lagos on the 16th of May in line with the set objectives that will enable the foundation to reduce poverty and improve health among Nigerian children.
In his speech, retired brigadier Julius Maada Bio, the Sierra Leone People’s Party presidential aspirant, who was the event’s special guest of honour, stressed the importance of giving back to the society as a visionary drive to make a better living for African people. Bio disclosed his support for the John Utaka Foundation and promised to work together with the foundation by November this year when he would have been elected.
England based Danny Shittu who plays for Queens Park Rangers expressed his determination to continue to give the John Utaka Foundation utmost support in achieving the clear-focused aims of the foundation.
“The fact is that I know him and he is a good ambassador to Nigerian and African Football, John Utaka is doing well,” said Shittu.
In his short but thought provoking speech, Utaka pointed out that he was inspired by his childhood experience when he started playing football in Enugu, a coal-mining town in southern Nigeria. He realized the importance of education and support in a child's life. He expressed a heart-felt story about how his personal humble beginnings motivated him.
“We had two stones for goalposts and played four against four. Sometimes something sharp would cut your feet, but we played through our wounds, didn’t even think about them. We just loved to play,” he said.
Utaka went on to play for the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu team before his sojourn into professional football. He first played for Arab Contractors and subsequently Ismaily of Egypt. He spent few seasons with Al-Sadd of Qatar, Racing Lens and later Rennes in France where he had an enviable scoring spree before joining Portsmouth in July 2007.
Utaka attributed his progress to God’s blessing and hard work for attaining the current position in his career. The John Utaka Foundation represents his belief in helping and empowering the youth of today for a better tomorrow by providing grants and working in partnership with registered charities that help disadvantaged young people to play a fuller role in communities throughout the UK, Nigeria and overseas.
In the fun-filled charity ball hosted by MC Mark, donations were made by guests comprised mainly of professionals in the media, movies and entertainment. The Barclays Bank donated the sum of 150,000 pounds. Air tickets with splendid travel packages were ‘auctioned’ as well as champagne.
Raffle draws include air tickets to Nigeria, a weekend break to Ghana, stage performance by May 7 , a young female African singer and few others from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, signing of autographs, distribution of T- Shirts and boots from the footballers, photo call, grand fashion show also took place.
According to Fatima Jabbe, an ambassador to the John Utaka Foundation, the proceeds from the publicised dinner and fundraising event will be used practically to kick-start the objectives of the foundation especially towards helping mentally and physically disabled children in Africa.
“This banquet event having celebrities from the football, movies and business worlds in attendance has shown that the foundation will be spurred to do more for the less-fortunate in our African society,” she stressed.
Other notable dignitaries and professional colleagues who graced the event are Peter Utaka, Dickson Etuhu, Sam Sodje, Steve Sodje, Hayden Mullins and Benjani of Portsmouth FC, Mark Wright of BBC 1 Sports, Babatunde Loye, Inem Coker, Akin Salami, Pauline Long and Femi Okutubo