Arthur Nganou: 'It hurts, but I laugh in their faces to prove them wrong'

Arthur Nganou picks out a colleges hurling match from 2013. There are two reasons why he remembers this particular game so vividly: It was the first time he wore the colours of Midleton CBS on a GAA field and the first time the colour of his skin was used by an opponent to racially slur him.
Arthur Nganou: 'It hurts, but I laugh in their faces to prove them wrong'

Arthur Nganou picks out a colleges hurling match from 2013. There are two reasons why he remembers this particular game so vividly: It was the first time he wore the colours of Midleton CBS on a GAA field and the first time the colour of his skin was used by an opponent to racially slur him.

Nganou is 20 years of age. Born in Cameroon, his family moved to Cork when he was five.

Settling in Ladysbridge, Arthur fell in with the local GAA club, Fr O’Neill’s. He quickly became adept with a hurl and sliotar in hand.

In 2015, the club won the county U15A championship. Arthur captained the side.

When the Nganou family relocated to Midleton, he transferred to the Magpies.

More silverware followed, Arthur contributing four points from play on the evening of Midleton’s county minor hurling final victory in 2018.

He won a Harty Cup with Midleton CBS in February of last year.

Two weeks later, he captained the school’s soccer team to Munster Senior Cup glory. It should be obvious by this point that Arthur has enjoyed much success inside the four white lines of a GAA and soccer field. Unfortunately, he has also had to endure racist comments in both codes.

He’s telling his story and sharing his “bad experiences” to raise awareness, to highlight that “there actually is racism in GAA and soccer in Ireland”.

Now, back to that colleges hurling game, and a moment when he was tussling with an opposition player.

“The goalmouth was full of water and mud. I shouldered him and he fell into the water and mud. He was covered in it. The next thing you know, he said to me, ‘now I am the colour of you’.

The 13-year-old’s reaction was more of shock than anger.

“That was my first time where anything like that was said to me on the pitch.

I was a bit blown back because I didn’t think people would say those comments. I laughed it off, but deep down, I was like, does this really happen nowadays?

“I told my coach. Contact was made with the other school and the player in question was suspended. They wrote back and apologised to our school.”

He doesn’t play hurling any more. Soccer is his priority these days. Or at least, it will be again when the action resumes post lockdown.

First-choice ‘keeper for UCC in the Munster Senior League, his position means opponents routinely look to get in his face for corner-kicks. It goes with the territory of wearing the number one shirt.

What is not par for the course, however, are the players who’ve got in his ear and the words they’ve unleashed.

“Some people will come up and whisper in my ear. They’ll say racist comments to try and throw me off. It happened while playing for Midleton CBS, Cobh Ramblers, and UCC.

“They are saying, ‘go back to where you came from’ or ‘you are such a monkey’.

“It does hurt, but I keep it in. I wouldn’t really make a scene. I just leave it go because they are no one to me.

“I laugh it off, laugh in their face, and get on with it, just prove them wrong.”

Of course, he shouldn’t have to laugh away racist comments. He has nothing to prove to anybody.

Arthur welcomes the conversation sparked in these parts by the rejuvenation of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

What has become evident is the need for greater understanding, to realise an intended witty comment pertaining to the colour of someone’s skin can never be packaged or passed off as a joke. What is friendly banter to one person is massively demeaning to another.

Education, he believes, is the path forward.

“You have to teach them first what [racism] is before they can actually stop doing it.

“I feel too many people make jokes without actually knowing that it hurts us.

“They might make a one-time, one-off joke, but it actually really affects us. People need to be aware of that.”

Remarks passed without thought, like the time an adult came home from holiday and told him and his brother ‘now we are as tanned as ye’.

“My brother and I didn’t think it was banter at all, but they did, so we had to just laugh it off.

“Educating people has to come first.”

It was his hope to receive a soccer scholarship to the States in the coming years. Recent events, however, have lessened his appetite to study and play in America.

“That would be one country I would be afraid to visit in case there is something wrong when I am there.”

Away from sporting fields, his experience of growing up here in Ireland was — and is — as it should be. Keen to get this across, he signs off on a positive note.

“My brother and I spent most of our primary school years in Kilcredan National School. Kilcredan is out the country.

“There were no other black people in the school when we went there.

“The kids our age, they obviously knew about skin colour because when we walked in everyone was looking at us, but after that, everyone was so nice to us.

“It kinda proves you are not born racist, you have to adopt it.”

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