Tuesday 23 July 2019

'Not every Irish person believed in the IRA, not every Muslim is an extremist who wants to kill people'

Former Bohs and St Pat's starlet Fuad Sule is back in a good place after a tough spell in England, but faith, family and football are still uppermost in his life, writes David Sneyd

Fuad Sule's family have never been all together since he arrived in Ireland with his mother aged three
Fuad Sule's family have never been all together since he arrived in Ireland with his mother aged three

The exact circumstances remain a mystery to Fuad Sule, but he is not consumed by a need to find answers.

When he arrived in Dublin from Nigeria as a three-year-old in 2000, it was his mother Linda, older brother Aji and sister Abiola who boarded the flight. Sule's father and two more of his brothers remained in Lagos.

Celebrating a victory with Bohemians in 2017. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Celebrating a victory with Bohemians in 2017. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Fuad, the youngest, who is now 22, cannot remember a time when they have all been together since. Linda now lives in Manchester near her sister, Abiola is based in London, where she moved for work after college, and Aji is in Dublin.

Fuad stays in contact with his dad, while his brothers in Nigeria have never come to Ireland.

Sule Snr did travel over for a short period once Linda and the three children settled.

"But he didn't like it so went back," Fuad explains. "It's not something big that I feel I have to go back there. Maybe when I'm ready, and when I actually want to go, I will."

Football has opened Sule's mind to different adventures, and it is currently all-consuming. The midfielder, formerly of St Patrick's Athletic and Bohemians, started pre-season with Larne at the weekend.

An ambitious club backed by the multi-millionaire founder of online estate agency Purplebricks, Sule is putting a torrid time with Barnet in England behind him.

"Nothing comes easy to anyone," he reasons.

Enrolled

Sule was six when he enrolled in senior infants in St Mary's primary school in Saggart.

"I was so young so didn't really understand what was going on. I didn't speak English, I had extra classes for that and help from the teachers. Later on when I was in fifth and sixth class, I would see kids coming in trying to speak English for the first time.

"That's harder, you're more aware of your surroundings then and aware that people know you don't speak English. When you're young it doesn't bother you. I got through all that and that's all that matters."

Linda worked three different jobs in the catering sector when Sule was growing up.

"I would see her when she was waking me up for school in the morning, that's it," he recalls.

They also spent time together on Fridays and Sundays - with football squeezed in between on Saturdays - when Linda would drive her three kids to mosque in Dublin city centre. That is when he would meet other Muslims from Lucan, Blanchardstown and Balbriggan.

"I loved it, there is a real community aspect to it. It is not just the prayers, I was with kids my own age having fun."

The religion may have been different in St Mary's, but the feeling of belonging remained.

"I was never treated differently or stopped from doing anything. It was a Catholic school so they can't change the rules because of one person.

"I wasn't abused or bullied, I was seen as normal. I never took part in the blessings when we went to the church. I remember the other kids used to go up and get the bread at the end, I just watched," Sule recalls.

"I am a strong believer in God and all that comes with it. I am at a stage in my life with my faith that I can't see any other way about going about things. Before going on the pitch, first thing in the morning when I wake up, I put God first and ask him to guide me. I've got a lot of happiness from being faithful and being religious, so why change?"

Growing up in Dublin, he straddled two very different worlds.

"Most people I was in school with, some are in jail, some are getting up to all sorts. I'm not going to lie, some of those people are my friends, I just never had an interest in any of that. I had my head screwed on, where I wanted to go and how to get there."

Sule laughs as he recalls how he was "bold in school but knew when to put the work in".

Achieving 470 points in his Leaving Certificate is proof of that and, after joining St Pat's, who had a third-level link with Maynooth University, college provided an education alongside his football.

"I've never felt different. You get the odd racist person in school, who are just trying to bully you and be racist and not be nice. They are that person for a reason but 90 per cent of the time I have always felt welcome wherever I went.

"I've always felt welcome and never felt out of place. I wouldn't go around screaming 'I'm a Muslim, I'm a Muslim, I'm a Muslim'. Most people wouldn't even know unless they asked me.

"They might ask if I wanted a drink and I'd tell them why I don't drink. I never felt less than anyone else, maybe because I was always welcome. Maybe it would be different if it was a hostile environment."

Sule's mother was keen to relocate to Manchester after work dried up following the financial crash in 2008.

"She didn't put pressure on me to sign for a club in England but I felt it, I felt I was holding her back," Sule explains.

Being a Muslim in Manchester now is perhaps similar to what it was like for Irish people there in the 1980s and '90s.

The two-year anniversary of the attack in the city, when a suicide bomber targeted an Ariana Grande concert in which 23 people were killed, recently passed and it is not a topic that Sule shies away from.

"With stuff that goes on around the world, with Muslim extremists being involved with bombings and all that type of stuff, the whole Islam religion gets painted with the same brush. I would take offence to that in the sense they are extremists.

"There are actual Muslims out there in the world that just go about their day-to-day life, living their good life, being normal, not doing stuff like bombing people.

"They are Muslim, so I kind of get where the confusion is because you can't say they are any other religion but Muslim, because that's what they are.

"Some people just go on their way normally, live a nice life, a happy life, I don't think everybody should be painted with the same brush.

"In the case with Irish people, not everybody is in the IRA, not everybody believes in violence. Back then if you were Irish, that is what you were associated with, it's a stigma you are associated with, but I don't let that stuff bother me too much.

"I know who I am, I know the company that I keep. I know that I will never be near any stuff like that. You just have to brush it aside. It's not a case of people saying 'you're this or you're that' every day. It's just when something happens, when a Muslim extremist takes part in something, that's when it gets brought up," Sule continues.

Discussion

"Because it hasn't directly been said to me, I don't take offence to it in the sense that, if somebody called me this or that, then I would take offence because I know I am not that. There are times when I've been on Twitter and people have been having a discussion about what extremists are.

"Are they Muslims, are they not Muslims? What religion are they? At the end of it they are Muslims, they're just a different type of Muslim that believe what they are doing is the way of believing in God, which is obviously wrong. The Islam faith is one of the most peaceful, so it doesn't make sense.

"If religion is peaceful then why are you killing people? My mam always tells me to be careful in life, about everything."

Sule's faith has been a source of strength, especially recently. A move to Barnet from Bohs last year started promisingly before injury and three managerial changes - Graham Westley, Martin Allen and John Still - saw him shunted to the side.

After a transfer to Linfield fell through, his agent recommended Larne, then in Northern Ireland's second tier, and, while initially holding reservations, the move is proving successful.

"I'd never even heard of Larne before," Sule laughs.

"I didn't know it existed, but everything about the place is so professional.

"It is exactly what I needed because after England, unless you go through something like that, it's hard to explain the effect it has on you.

"I could never understand the lads who would come back from England saying how ruthless it is there, but it is very easy to see why lads get depressed. Now I am in a good place again."

Irish Independent

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